Tag Archives: civil liberties

Davey and Cable defend free speech at universities from Tory attack

Vince Cable Social Liberal Forum conference Jul 19 2014 Photo by Paul WalterWe know that during the passage of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act, Liberal Democrat peers Sal Brinton and Margaret Sharp tried to amend the bill to strengthen the duty on universities to preserve freedom of speech. Senior Tories couldn’t see why that was so important, sadly.

The Observer reports that Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers, especially Vince Cable, disagree about the planned guidance to be issued to universities about what they can and can’t allow on campus.

In the Sunday

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Things to do in your lunch hour: Last chance to respond to Scottish Government’s ID Database consultation

A couple of weeks ago, James Baker told us why the proposals in Scotland to use the NHS identity database and use it effectively as a surveillance tool was wrong and dangerous:

One of the stated aims of the changes proposed is that it would make it easier to ‘trace people’, the examples given are tracing missing children or ‘health tourists’. This is a giveaway as to the increased surveillance capabilities the scheme would create. If it’s able to trace children through civic transactions recorded on the system then it will be able to trace political campaigners, people’s whose library books are overdue, potentially anyone who comes to the attention of the authorities.

The consultation is alarmingly lacking in detail as to how the new database system would work, and what safeguards would be put in place.  If implemented as suggested it would almost certainly raise the possibility of a legal challenge over the breach of people’s right to privacy, and additional  compliance issues with data protection laws. At the very least such a major change in people’s relationship to the state  should be the subject of a public debate, not rushed through by officials using changes in obscure regulations. If these changes are to occur they need to be done through the use of primary legislation not a change in regulations. This seems a request it would seem hard for any reasonable Scottish Parliamentarian to deny.

The Scottish Government is consulting on this and today is your last chance to make your views known. You can do so here. It is worth a few minutes of your time to ask the Scottish Government to think twice before introducing such a step.

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Liberal Democrats ensure government gives added protection for journalists’ records

Police will need to get a judge to give them permission before they access journalists’ phone records, according to the BBC.

A temporary measure means officers must follow the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and get legal permission to obtain any communications data.

The move comes after strong criticism of the way police were using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to access journalists’ sources.

The Home Office said it was an “interim solution” ahead of the next parliament.

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Opinion: Why Scots should worry about their national identity scheme

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 16.45.55One of the first things Liberal Democrats in government did was to scrap the UK wide National Identity Scheme. It would have been all to easy then for NO2ID to pack up, say job done and go home. Thankfully that didn’t happen and the remnants of the campaign instead carried on keeping watchful eye on developments of what has been coined the database state. The database state is the term we now use to describe the tendency of governments to try and use computers to manage and control society.  Another attribute of this database state is function creep. This is the phenomenon whereby a system setup for one discreet purpose starts to grow out of control expanding to be used for ever more administrative functions.

A perfect illustration of function creep can be seen with the Scottish National Entitlement Card (NEC). This card started off as a replacement to pensioners bus passes in cities like Edinburgh but quickly developed into a system for accessing Council services such as libraries. Now it has about 30 uses including proof of age,  paying for school lunches cashlessly and accessing leisure services. In all but name it is a National Identity Card.

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Baroness Sally Hamwee writes…”Pesky Lib Dem” Lords win crucial civil liberties changes to Counter Terrorism Bill

David Pickett photo Scooby Doo gang PEsky LIbDems legoThey call it the heavy lifting, or – less physical, more forensic – using a fine-tooth comb.  The second chamber is where detailed and precise scrutiny of legislation occurs.  For Bills which raise vital questions about civil liberties, such as the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill this is all the more important.  It was therefore to the surprise of Lib Dems in the Lords that it was, aside from a misplaced attempt to reintroduce the so-called “Snooper’s Charter”, almost exclusively Lib Dem peers doing the heavy lifting .  At one point I passed a note to Brian Paddick and Sarah Ludford, the team with me on the entirety of it: A lot of people want to talk about the issues we’ve raised but they couldn’t be ****d (complete to taste) to write their own amendments.

Our concern, really to make sure that this sort of legislation is fit for purpose and balances the need to protect the public with precious civil liberties, is often derided.  It is important to get every dot and comma right.  It is therefore a badge of honour to be accused by Norman Tebbit of “dancing around on pins” or, in Michael Howard’s words, “the pesky Lib Dems”.

The Bill that came to the Lords was very different from when it was first trailed by the Prime Minister, speaking to the Australian Parliament about “excluding” people from the UK.  Lib Dems in Government ensured that such claims, made for electoral reasons, were not reflected in the legislation that was finally published.  This is not to say it came to the Lords in a perfect state and our work has ensured that checks and balances on the State have been increased.

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Willie Rennie warns SNP over ID database

Willie Rennie got a pretty good splash of headlines yesterday after he raised his concerns over SNP plans to create a massive ID database in Scotland. The Scotsman has details:

The Scottish Government is considering an extension of the NHS central register, which is already the “most complete and authoritative record of individuals in Scotland”.

It currently covers about 30 per cent of people, but ministers want to extend this and share information stored with more than 100 government agencies – including HMRC for tax ­purposes.

A similar population register was ditched south of the Border when controversial and expensive plans for ID cards were scrapped in 2010.

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Featherstone and Hughes defend Coalition record on civil liberties in letter to Independent on Sunday

The coalition’s record on civil liberties took a bit of  a pasting in last week’s Independent on Sunday. Today, Justice Minister Simon Hughes and Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone defended the Liberal Democrat record in a letter to the paper. Their missive rather felt the sharp edge of the editor’s pen, but the full version (via the party website) is below. They have a good go at both the Tories and Labour.

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A day for Liberal Democrats to speak out for Justice?

It’s not a comfortable day to be a Liberal Democrat today.

The House of Lords is debating the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. Will it overturn the Commons’ rejection of its amendment protecting the right to Judicial Review? Jonathan Marks wrote of his concerns about this provision earlier this year. When it was last discussed, 17 Liberal Democrats supported the rebel amendment and 43 supported the Government position. You have to ask serious questions when even Lord Carlile thinks the Government is going too far.

It was a Judicial Review that ruled the appalling Prisoner Book ban unlawful last week. The state has more than enough power and screws things up, or at the very least pushes the boundaries all the time. It is vital that citizens have the chance to challenge government decisions in the courts. It’s a vital check on power that should not be being mucked around with.

How can citizens take the government on if the government throws all the tools at their disposal in the bin?

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Opinion: The firm hand of the state where you least want it

A government with Liberals in it has banned spanking on film. Who would have thought it? I was hoping for a society where the state at least kept pace with social attitudes. Instead we find that through obscure bits of legislation we are continuing a move towards controlling people more and more that was started by the Labour party.
Porn made in the UK can no longer include sexual acts such as facesitting, spanking, caning, fisting and female ejaculation thanks to the  Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 . There are many reasons why these changes are bad, 10 of them are here in an article by Emily Dubberly. It includes the fact that they are arbitrary, sexist and infringe civil liberties.
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Lord Ken MacDonald writes… For Liberal Democrats, civil liberties belong to every age

The closer we get to the election, the louder the question resonates: what have Liberal Democrats brought to government? In all the compromises and stresses of coalition, has our difference made it all worthwhile?

In the area of civil liberties, so important to us as a party, the answer must be a resounding ‘yes’. Of course not all the coalition battles around freedom have taken place in public, but they have been fiercely fought nonetheless- sustained, difficult struggles against the Tories and parts of the Whitehall machine, to keep our country loyal to its most enduring values in the face of terrorism and risk.

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A couple of thoughts about the proposed counter-terrorism legislation

I’ve got to be honest, I can’t share Malcolm Bruce’s cautious optimism about the Government’s proposed counter-terrorism measures. Denying our own citizens the right to come back to our country without much mention of testing the evidence against them seems pretty drastic to me. When you consider that it’s likely that some of that evidence is likely to be held in secret and therefore not challengeable by the accused person. We could have situations where young muslim men are denied the right to travel or to return to this country unfairly.

Malcolm says that nobody will be made stateless – but what are they supposed to do with themselves for a couple of years. I suspect there may well be young people who go over there and are so sickened by what they see that they have seen that they want to get back to their family. Being with their family may well be the best place for them.

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Shouldn’t Parliament Square be for protesters?

Parliament square by Paul WalterThe name Donnachadh McCarthy means something to those of us of a certain age. Donnachadh was once a Liberal Democrat and he was proper Awkward Squad. I spent many hours arguing with him on Cix, which was where all online Liberal Democrats hung out back in the day. Quite often I agreed with him and even when I didn’t, I realised that he was the sort of pain in the backside that every leader needs. Liberals have always been particularly bad at venerating their leaders. Willie Rennie described us, the day he became Scottish leader, as a party that doesn’t want to be led.

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Julian Huppert writes to Theresa May over Snoopers’ Charter allegation: “I would expect you to issue a public correction and an apology at the earliest opportunity”

Julian Huppert MPRemember when the Tories were, briefly, a party which stuck up for individuals’ privacy? It happened, honestly – when they were in opposition. But now, in government, home secretary Theresa May is happy to push the traditional authoritarian measures beloved by Tories and Labour alike.

And so it was, again, today that she pushed forward the Snoopers’ Charter (aka the little-loved Data Communications Bill), noting, accurately, that it would already be law if it weren’t for those pesky Lib Dems. Fair enough: it’s an honest argument. Lib Dems believe in civil liberties, Tories tend not to.

But Theresa May went well beyond honest debate, alleging that Lib Dem opposition to the state’s right to track your every internet move was a direct threat to children’s lives. Hold on a moment, points out Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesman Julian Huppert in a letter to Mrs May published this evening (see below), that’s just not true and you owe the party an apology.

photo by: Policy Exchange
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An email on counter-terrorism measures from a Liberal Democrat should not make me despair…

Nick Clegg has sent the following email to party members this evening about the new counter terrorism measures taken by the Government. There is no doubt that had he not been constrained by Liberal Democrats, David Cameron would have gone much, much further and what has emerged is as liberal as it is likely to get. But I don’t have to like it. Here is what Nick said:

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LibLink: Paddy Ashdown: Britain’s best defence to the terror threat is international action

In today’s Observer, Paddy Ashdown cautions against knee-jerk reactions to the prospect of radicalised Jihadists returning to Britain and wreaking havoc on our streets:

He says, basically, that we’ve dealt with this before, in more difficult circumstances and we know how to do it:

On Friday, the government announced that the imminent danger of jihadi attack meant Britain’s threat level should be raised to “severe”. Then, from the prime minister downwards, Tory ministers took to every available airwave to tell us how frightened we should be and why this required a range of new powers for them to exercise. For the record, the threat level in Northern Ireland has been “severe” for the past four years – as it was in all Britain for many years in the 1980s and 1990s, when the IRA threat was at its greatest.

I say this not to deny the threat from returning jihadis – though as the former head of counter-terrorism for MI6, Richard Barrett said on Saturday, this should not be overestimated. But rather to make the point that this is not a new threat. It is one we have faced before and one we know how to deal with – effectively, without panic and without a whole new range of executive powers that could endanger our liberties. Indeed, when it comes to facing threats, it was surely far more difficult to cope with IRA terrorists slipping across the Irish Sea than it is to stop jihadis returning from Iraq?

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LibLink: Lord Ken MacDonald: How the DRIP Bill will help us convict criminals

A telephoneThe Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill cleared its Commons stages last night after a long debate which saw Julian Huppert speak at every stage and in great detail. He was pretty much doing the job of a Minister and very clearly and rationally put the case for the Bill, at all times stating his own personal commitment to civil liberties.

Lord Ken MacDonald, who has been pretty sound on things like secret courts, the statelessness provisions in the Immigration Bill and the cuts to Legal Aid, has written an article …

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Opinion: Just remember we’re all human

antony Gormley statue by kungfugenWhen young adults, who may even at the time have been members of prestigious universities and their more infamous clubs, became intoxicated and indulged in aggressive or loud and disturbing speech, violent actions or were simply careless and destructive, did we automatically assume that when they matured they would behave that way for the rest of their lives? We did not. Indeed some may still be thought fit to take part in the running of our country.

When young adults or older youths indulge in isolated incidents of unwise pyromania, do we say that they will be pyromaniacs for life? We do not, and in general they are not.

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Opinion: DRIP under the microscope – should Liberal Democrats support this Bill?

Samsung Galaxy Note 3Unusually for me, I’m starting writing this piece without knowing what conclusion I’ll come to by the end of it. Normally it’s straight forward enough to marshal evidence, decide on view and then write it up (unless the curse of writers’ block strikes of course).

But the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (DRIP) takes the usual perils of journalism turning most stories into a simple good versus bad dynamic, throws in the paucity of expert mainstream coverage of many technical issues and adds a dash of juggling different uncertainties.

Certainly if …

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Lord Brian Paddick writes: The difficult balancing act between privacy and security

Data storm byt Dave HerholzAs a Liberal former police officer I am acutely aware of the difficult balancing act the government has to perform between keeping us safe and keeping our personal data safe. At the same time I see both the anxiety that those concerned with civil liberties have over the new legislation and the Government’s need to act to prevent a valuable crime detection tool slipping from our grasp.

So why the need and why the rush?

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LibLink: Norman Baker: Security and freedom in the internet age

Samsung Galaxy Note 3Norman Baker wrote an article for the party website which I thought you might find useful because it deals with some of the points raised in the questions to my mammoth post yesterday.  I must warn you, though, that there are some examples of apostrophe abuse in it, so steel yourselves.

Many, if not most, people are concerned about the rush to get this legislation through in just two days. Norman gives his explanation of why he thinks it’s necessary:

No government introduces fast track legislation lightly, but the challenge

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Baroness Sarah Ludford writes…How not to use Brussels for policy laundering

Racks line photo by Tristan SchmurrThe new Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) Bill responds to the European Court of Justice annulment of the 2006 EU Data Retention Directive.

The government asserts that the DRIP Bill only confirms existing law as it is broadly the same content as the 2009 regulations implementing the EU Directive. But as that Directive has been swept away, DRIP provides a new legal basis, and this will in fact be the first time that legislation to regulate retention of phone, email and internet records has been generated …

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Opinion: State security measures can protect liberty not just threaten it

Benjamin Franklin, Old Town Hall, Boston (493550)It is an unwritten law of Lib Dem debates on security issues that before long someone will quote Benjamin Franklin that ‘Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.’

I have always been intrigued by the origins of this comment, primarily because taken on its own and literally, it is hyperbolic nonsense. Almost any form of government involves some tension between liberty and security. The state provides defence and police forces, but to do so levies taxes and circumscribes individuals’ freedom to use force to defend themselves.

There seems to be very little on the web about what Franklin actually meant. But an academic paper by Benjamin Wittes of Brookings Institute unsurprisingly reveals that Franklin’s aphorism was intended in a very different sense from that in which it is now so often quoted.

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Opinion: We should be ashamed of these emergency surveillance powers

Fingers typing at keyboardIn April the European Court of Justice ruled that the UK’s regime of mass data retention was incompatible with the treaty on fundamental rights, particularly with article 8 that stipulates the right to private and family life, right to protection of personal data and the right to freedom of expression. This was a major victory for many Liberals, civil liberties advocates and privacy campaigners who have fought against the widespread blanket retention of innocent and law-abiding citizen’s data.

The ruling set out 10 principles that new legislation should adhere …

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Opinion: Liberal Democrats should take a stand on state surveillance powers

ServerThe Coalition Government has announced it is rushing through emergency legislation underpinning the state’s right to keep personal data held by internet and phone companies. This is in reaction to the ruling by the European Court of Justice that at an EU directive on privacy retention had over-reached its powers and amounted to an invasion of privacy.

If the European Court of Justice says existing state surveillance powers are unlawful then we should not re-introduce them with no questions asked. Let’s have the debate as to whether the state should have these powers …

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UPDATED: (Not) The Snoopers’ Charter: Where we are, how we got here, what we should look for and what should happen next

The Houses Of ParliamentI’m feeling slightly nervous this morning. As I was going to bed last night, news came through that apparently a deal had been struck to introduce emergency legislation on communications data. The Guardian has the details.

The government will announce that it is rushing through emergency legislation underpinning the state’s right to keep personal data held by internet and phone companies.

Labour is expected to accept the bill on the basis that it will simply restore what the government believed to be the law before the European Court of Justice ruled in April that an EU directive on privacy retention had over-reached its powers and amounted to an invasion of privacy.

But, as part of the deal, the opposition has won agreement that ministers will launch a review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act passed in 2000. The act is seen as the source of excessive surveillance by the security services.

Hang on, what was that last sentence again? “The opposition has won agreement that Ministers will launch a review of RIPA.” Let’s just remind ourselves who was in Government when RIPA was passed? Ah yes, that authoritarian, illiberal Labour government that thought it was ok to lock people up for 90 days without charge.  Our MPs have been going on about reviewing RIPA since it was passed. It’s really important that Labour don’t get to claim that ground.

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Call Clegg 26 June: Tories can talk all they like about snoopers’ charter, it won’t happen as long as I’m in government

call clegg Clegg started in robust mood this morning, vowing that Theresa May will not get her way on increased surveillance powers while he’s in Government. He’s done well to stand firm against this for more than two years now. It’s certainly true that he had to be persuaded into this robust stance initially, but it’s to his credit that he listened to the points made to his office by a group of angry bloggers in April 2012 and has held firm ever since.

There seemed to be a clear theme throughout the half hour of Liberal Democrats standing up for people in the face of abuse of power by both state and private companies. Abuse of zero hours contracts is to end thanks to Liberal Democrats and the exorbitant interest rates charged by payday lenders is to be capped, among a whole raft of regulations brought in by Liberal Democrat minister Jo Swinson.

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LibLink: Robin Meltzer: Water cannon must not be allowed on the streets of London

License details  Released under the GNU Free Documentation License. (Original text : de:GNU-FDL)View moreNick Clegg made clear his opposition to the use of water cannon in London the other day on Call Clegg. He said:

Personally I think it rubs up against the long tradition of policing by consent on London’s streets. It creates an embattled sense of how police work and I don’t think it is in keeping with our long tradition.

Now Richmond Park’s Liberal Democrat candidate Robin Meltzer has added his voice to the

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Opinion: Don’t Spy On Us — a Lib Dem call to action

GCHQ Building at Cheltenham, GloucestershireLast weekend the Don’t Spy On Us coalition (a grouping comprising the Open Rights Group, Big Brother Watch, English PEN, Liberty, Article 19 and Privacy International) held a day of action seeking to lay practical groundwork for a stronger international movement to protect digital civil liberties. Jenny Woods, one of our party’s most active campaigners in this area, and I attended the afternoon, which had some important take-away messages for the Lib Dems.

photo by: Defence Images
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The Independent View: Positively fighting back online

Circuit Bending Orchestra: Lara Grant at Diana Eng's Fairytale FWith the seemingly endless news of global and domestic extremism –  whether about the 250 girls kidnapped in Nigeria, the 500 Britons reportedly waging jihad in Syria, or the worrying allegations made against several Birmingham schools – it is rare that a report devoted to countering extremism should fill us with positivity. However, research released last week by Quilliam about the state of online extremism should encourage us all, not …

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Alison McInnes MSP writes…The Scottish Justice Secretary is wrong to say stop and search is an operational matter

Police stop and search1st April 2014 marked the 1st anniversary of Police Scotland, a single national police force that replaced our 8 regional forces.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats were the only group in the Scottish Parliament to oppose the national force from the outset.

One of the key strengths of Scotland’s policing up until then had been its local foundations.  Funded by local councils, managed by local officers and officials, accountable to locally elected representatives, responsive to local needs.

photo by: Tony Austin
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    need to put a bell on that cat so Libby can hear it coming
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    Well done Eddie - especially your last line.
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