Theresa May on Sunday insisted the failed "snooper's charter" would be revived as she appeared to be gearing up for a fight with Liberal Democrats. Earlier this month Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg blocked the Home Secretary's plans for a communications bill that would have given police and security services access to records of individuals' internet use.
Labour former Home Secretary Alan Johnson said on Sunday he was "absolutely passionately" a supporter of reforms and suggested it was a resigning issue for Theresa May if she could not get the changes into law by 2015. Asked whether she would quit over the matter, May told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "I have made my view very clear. We are now working through across the government what action we can take but I'm clear, the law enforcement agencies, the intelligence agencies need access to communications data and that is essential to them doing their job."
The Home Secretary said there was a reference to the plans in the Queen's Speech. She added: "I have always been clear that access to communications data is essential for law enforcement agencies and the intelligence agencies. There is a reducing capability in relation to access to communications data."
Johnson told the programme the need for the law change was not "knee jerk". "I am absolutely with the Home Secretary because I feel very, very absolutely confident that she will be fighting for this. We need to get this on the statute book before the next general election and I think it is absolutely crucial, indeed I think it is a resignation issue for a Home Secretary if the Cabinet do not support her in this central part of what the security services do."
It comes as it emerged the Deputy Prime Minister was warned that blocking the bill could come back to haunt him just days before the murder of soldier Lee Rigby. Liberal Democrat Lord Carlile, who until 2011 was the independent reviewer of government anti-terror laws, said he was "shocked" at Clegg's "political" decision.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he said: "The veto was a political decision, not one based on the merits. It was contrary to what are certainly the views of the Home Secretary Theresa May and probably those of the Prime Minister. The security services and the police clearly felt the need for the new law. On May 12, 2013, just a few days before Drummer Rigby's death, as part of an exchange of letters which otherwise I prefer to keep private, I wrote to Mr Clegg, 'Of course, the most important issue about all this is the safety of the public. If it really is the position that you have vetoed the substance of the previously proposed legislation, I fear that this may come to haunt you and the party if any terrorism event occurs which could otherwise have been avoided'.
He added: "The murder of the soldier is an illustration of exactly what I meant. The response should be immediate and clear. The Communications Data Bill, of course subject to the safeguards and scrutiny already agreed in the last session of Parliament, should be reintroduced during the coming weeks."
Lord Carlile told Murnaghan on Sky News: "We don't know whether if that bill had been enacted two years ago it would have prevented this incident. "What we can certainly say is that it might have done and what we can absolutely say for certain is that if the communications data bill, with the safegaurds that were agreed in the last session of parliament, was introduced then it would be very likely to prevent some attacks of this kind in the future."
He added: "The reason it was vetoed, as Nick Clegg the leader of my party knows very well, was purely political because of demands from inside the Liberal Democrats." Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes said there is "no evidence at all" that the communications bill could have prevent the Woolwich atrocity. He told the programme: "The evidence base isn't as clear as I think he would argue it is."
Emma Carr, deputy director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: "It is remarkable for politicians to be jumping to legislation to monitor the entire country when all the evidence to date shows this horrific attack would not have been prevented by the communications data bill."
She added: "The draft bill also prohibited the authorities from looking at the content of messages and surely we should expect people under the kind of surveillance possible in this case to be having their messages read? It is the wrong solution and would divert resources from focused surveillance operations at a time when the agencies are already struggling to cope with the volume of information available."
Carr said: "The Government is rightly working to solve the important problem of who is using a specific Internet address, but the draft communications data bill went far too far, as recognised by two parliamentary committees. Last year the British police received more data about Skype use than any other country, including the USA. To suggest the police do not have access to data is simply wrong. Perhaps Lord Carlile should be explaining why he barely mentioned the issue of communications data in his formal reports to Parliament rather than resorting to ill-judged scaremongering."