News story

Home Secretary: UK needs capability to defend its citizens

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Theresa May gives annual Lord Mayor's Defence and Security Lecture

The world is a dangerous place and the UK must maintain its capability to defend its citizens in the digital age, Home Secretary Theresa May said today.

Speaking at the annual Lord Mayor’s Defence and Security Lecture in London, she spoke of the threat the country faces, including from British people returning home from the conflict in Syria.

But the Home Secretary said that threat – whether from terrorism or organised crime – is changing fast and the UK needs the capabilities to defend its interests and protect its citizens.

And she said it was important to talk about the balance between privacy and security “in the full context of the threats we face” rather than “in a strange vacuum as if the debate was entirely academic”.

Threats to UK

Home Secretary Theresa May said:

The terrorist threats to this country and our interests are changing faster than at any time since 9/11. We continue to face possible attacks by al Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But we face further threats from Syria and now from Iraq where al Qaida, ISIL and others have created a safe haven with substantial resources including advanced technology and weapons.

They are on the doorstep on Europe, just a few hours flying time from London, and they want to attack us – not just in Syria or Iraq but here in Britain.

The Home Secretary told the event at Mansion House that it is important to be clear about the UK’s capabilities and the challenges faced in maintaining them in a digital age.

She said:

We are living more of our lives online, using an array of new technology. This is hugely liberating and a great opportunity for economic growth, but this technology has become essential not just to the likes of you and me but to organised criminals and terrorists.

Far from having some fictitious mastery over all this technology we, in democratic states, face the significant risk of being caught out by it.

Governments have always reserved the power to monitor communications and to collect data about communications when it is necessary and proportionate to do so.

It is much harder now – there is more data, we do not own it and we can no longer always obtain it. I know some people will say ‘hurrah for that’ – but the result is that we are in danger of making the internet an ungoverned, ungovernable space, a safe haven for terrorism and criminality.

Great danger

The Home Secretary described loss of capability as “the great danger we face”.

She said:

The real problem is not that we have built an over-mighty state but that the state is finding it harder to fulfil its most basic duty, which is to protect the public.

That is why I have said before and I will go on saying that we need to make changes to the law to maintain the capabilities we need.

Yes, we have to make sure that the capabilities can only be used with the right authorisation and with appropriate oversight. But this is quite simply a question of life and death, a matter of national security.

We must keep on making the case until we get the changes we need.