You can’t accuse Nick Clegg of hiding away. Now that he’s returned from holiday, his first direct public comment on the Miranda detention and Guardian files controversy comes in a column in that paper.
First, where the Liberal Democrats are coming from:
Liberal Democrats believe government must tread the fine line between liberty and security very carefully, and are not easily persuaded by a government minister asserting: “Just trust me.” So now that we are in government, we have been vigilant in ensuring the right decisions are made: scrutinising and challenging the assumptions of security experts, even as we give them our wholehearted support in their aim to keep the public safe.
And a bit of a “by their deeds you shall know them” swipe at Labour:
One point on which both parties have been united is this: seeking to unpick the worst excesses of Labour’s authoritarian legislation. From restoring rights to protest, ending the detention of children in immigration cases, scrapping ID cards and limiting some terrorism powers, we have turned the clock back on their biggest mistakes. It has been bizarre to see Yvette Cooper parrot concerns about civil liberties while representing a party hard-wired to trample on those liberties while in office. People are right to ask questions about the detention of David Miranda for nine hours this week. But Cooper voted for powers to detain suspects for 90 days – 2,160 hours. Her outrage is almost comical.
On the issue of the destruction of the data held by the Guardian:
I believed at the time, and still do, that it was entirely reasonable for the government to seek to get leaked documents back from the Guardian or have them destroyed. Along with the information the newspaper had published, it had information that put national security and lives at risk. It was right for us to want that information destroyed. The Guardian had decided not to publish this information: not a single sentence was censored from the newspaper as a result of the information being destroyed.
And on Miranda’s detention:
I was not consulted on the plans to detain him before it happened, and I acknowledge the many concerns raised about the use of schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 for these purposes. There is obviously a material difference between agreeing by mutual consent that files will be destroyed, and forcibly detaining someone. Terrorism powers should be used proportionately. That is why it is immensely important that the independent reviewer of terrorism powers, David Anderson QC, reports rapidly on whether this was a legitimate use of the Terrorism Act, and whether that legislation should be adjusted. Already, we are planning to limit the schedule 7 powers. We consulted last year on a wide set of improvements – such as reducing the maximum period of detention to six hours and allowing anyone detained for more than 60 minutes access to a lawyer. This autumn we will be taking a bill through parliament to implement these changes. In my view, if Anderson provides a clearly justified recommendation to restrict these powers even further, we should seek to do so in this bill.
There may be some disquiet amongst Liberal Democrats about the tone of Clegg’s last paragraph, though, who are likely to bristle at the equation between what he calls a “libertarian” approach which veers towards the illegal:
So a balance must be struck between a libertarian “anything goes” approach, which sees new technology as a way to escape from the reach of the law, and an authoritarian view that sees technology as a new opportunity to intrude into our lives.
They may be reassured by the last sentence, though:
Technology will continue to evolve and governments worldwide will try to evolve with it. As long as Liberal Democrats are in government, I will ensure that our individual rights are not cast aside in the name of collective security.
You can read the whole article here.
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