Tensions high among UK MPs over EU cybercrime directive

Tensions have broken out in the House of Commons over a proposed European direction on cyber attacks against information systems, which the UK has agreed to opt into.

James Brokenshire, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Home Office, began the debate by commenting on the seriousness of the threat posed by cyber warfare which is set to be a key focus of proposals to world leaders today. He said there can be “a significant real-world impact”, both financially and with infrastructure, and that national security is also at risk.

He commended the work done by the European Scrutiny Commitee to tackle this problem and lent his support to the European Union directive aimed at tackling cybercrime. He also said that the UK is committed to its role in addressing cybercrime, investing £650 million over the next four years.

Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North, also recognised the threat of cyber warfare and welcomed the opt-in to the EU directive. However, she queried why there was a delay in the opt-in process, since there was an original deadline to do so by December 23, 2010. The UK opted in on January 31, meaning it was over a month late on the deadline. Her point was also echoed by Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda, who said the UK was “dilatory” on this matter.

Johnson asked why the UK did not opt in earlier, given there is room within the directive for negotiation on certain items. She made the point that because the UK failed to opt in on time, no influence from the UK could be imparted on the draft directive, effectively axing Britain’s right to express its views on how the directive should take shape.

She also quizzed the Minister on the ability to fund the proposed measures with a severely curtailed Home Office budget, what further resources would be needed, how it will address the longer prison sentences suggested in the directive, and why the UK government failed to opt into the EU directive on human trafficking, which she asked the Minister to reconsider.

Brokenshire responded that the opt-in was made “in time” and that no harm would come from the decision. He said it would be “premature” to address specific points of the directive, since it is still in a draft stage, and he made the point that there is enough funding available, but a decision has yet to be made on how it will be allocated. He said the reason the human trafficking direction was not opted into was because there were no measures in place where the UK would have benefited, but that this decision is open to review.

William Cash, the Conservative MP for Stone, was not pleased with the decision, calling the draft directive “deficient” and still needing considerable scrutiny. He asked why there was a scrutiny process at all if decisions were going to be made before such processes were complete, but Brokenshire said that the directive was still open for negotiation.

Neil Carmichael, Conservative MP for Stroud, asked if telephone fraud would be included as part of the directive – to which Brokenshire said that it mainly focused on computers, but with the growth of the likes of Skype, there is scope for its inclusion.