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Security v privacy – the cybersecurity balancing act

4 min read

Former Crime and Policing Minister David Hanson MP assesses the role of parliamentarians in achieving and sustaining open & secure cyberspace.

As CPA UK launches a major Commonwealth parliamentary project on cybersecurity, former Home Office Minister David Hanson MP looks at the role of lawmakers in ensuring an open yet safe cyberspace.

It is often said that the first duty of government is to provide safety and security for its citizens.

Once this was done through strong policing or armies abroad.

But with the threat nowadays often at the end of a computer screen, security now is protected by managing threats from cyber sources. Threats that attack information held, attack intellectual property, damage protection of people’s hard earned savings or expose a business’s accounts to fraud and cyber attack.
Legislatures and executives are sometimes slow to react to advances in technology. But once parliaments, parties and governments learn of the opportunities and threats new technology pose they should act to protect their communities.

But that also means that legislators must continually scrutinise the government to ensure that they fulfil this vital duty.

Governments need to produce an effective strategy – analyse the threats, look at capability, decide action – and action can be new laws or increasing government support in key areas.

Parliament needs to look at new proposed legislation from the perspective of liberty and security. In the case of the recent Investigatory Powers Bill, a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons chaired by a former Secretary of State, in a special committee, looked at Government proposed legislation and suggested 86 recommendations.

Creating long-lasting legislation to improve cybersecurity is not a simple task. It involves a careful balancing act between security and civil liberties. The universal human rights that we believe in need to be protected, and sometimes that puts at odds those inalienable rights with the role of government. This means that legislation regarding cybersecurity needs to be precision engineered, thus reinforcing the importance of legislators.

This is not merely a national issue though. Seeing cybersecurity through that lens will allow organised crime and terrorism to succeed where the legislation will inevitably fail. Governments, and more importantly legislatures, must come together to flesh out coherent policies. This will ensure the protection of individuals and businesses from fraud and malicious attacks and importantly the ability of the public and private sectors to deliver.

As a former Home Office Minister, responsible for security, I know all too well how the view of the executive on this matter is formed. We know that we must act with diligence to protect the fundamental rights we all take as standard. That is why as a Minister I welcomed the scrutiny of legislators in making a Bill the best it could possibly be.

Now as a backbench MP, and one that served on the pre-legislative scrutiny committee on the Investigatory Powers Bill, I witnessed first-hand the importance of being the legislator. We spent six months questioning the Government, industry representatives and experts. This level of scrutiny is an exemplar of how cybersecurity legislation should be considered.  

People’s liberty is important but so is the freedom not to have criminal acts perpetrated on victims via cyber space. Failure to tackle cybersecurity head-on is a failure to tackle fraudsters, industrial saboteurs and terrorists. Not only does this cost people and businesses millions of pounds, but it costs people their privacy and security. All too often executives can be complacent, but so can society. All too often it takes a failure of current legislation to implement the reform needed. But this must not be the case. I believe that by working in the national interests legislators can pass sound laws that fulfil our duty of providing security and safety to all our citizens.

CPA UK’s Commonwealth Parliamentary Project on Cybersecurity consists of three regional workshops (Asia-Pacific, Africa and the Caribbean), the development of an e-handbook, and a National Security conference in London.The first regional workshop takes place in Brisbane on 25-28 July.

David Hanson is a former Home Office Minister and the Labour MP for Delyn

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