Tim Farron MP writes: Liberal Democrats must stand up against blanket internet surveillance

I regularly get asked “who are your Liberal Heroes?” and I’ll reel off a list of people like Beveridge, Penhaligon and Paddy Ashdown and usually the person who has asked the question nods and smiles. Then I will tell them that the person I most admire is Harry Willcock. That’s typically met with a look of bemusement! I got similar looks of bewilderment when I cited Harry in 2005 in one of my first speeches in the House of Commons when I opposed Labours ID cards bill…

But Harry is at the top of my list because he was the Liberal that helped stop ID Cards in the 50’s.< On 7 December 1950, Harry, was stopped by a police constable while driving in Finchley, London and told that he should present his identity card at a police station within 48 hours. Harry refused, famously saying: "I am a Liberal and I am against this sort of thing". Harry was prosecuted under the National Registration Act 1939, found guilty and fined 10 shillings. During his trial he argued that identity cards had no place in peace time. His cause became well known and the National Registration Act was repealed in 1952. Many things have changed since Harry uttered those famous words, but our fight for civil liberties remains as strong as ever. Our party fought to stop the return of ID Cards a few years ago. We won that fight and many others in government, but in recent months we've learned of the scale and extent of the Government's digital surveillance programs. Everyone knows that countries spy on one another and terrorist suspects are rightly targeted, but millions of innocent people are having their emails, digital communications and meta-data stored by the security services in a way that is almost beyond comprehension. That is not a type of state that liberals want to see.  To coin a phrase, we are against that sort of thing! Working on a cross party basis with my friend and colleague Julian Huppert and other MPs like David Davis and Tom Watson, I have tabled a parliamentary motion, Early Day Motion 869, calling for a Digital Bill of Rights.  You can read the motion in full here.

We are also working with Norman Baker and Nick Clegg to push this agenda forward, but we need your help! Could you help us by emailing your MP and asking them to sign the motion? You can also ask them to write to Theresa May and call for a review of the powers available to the security services.

Everyone should enjoy a basic level of rights and protections when they use the internet.  Millions of innocent people should not be spied on.  But these freedoms and rights must be fought for. Just like Harry stood up against the illiberalism of ID cards, we are the ones who need to stand up against blanket internet surveillance.

* Tim Farron is Leader of the Liberal Democrats, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and a former President of the Liberal Democrats.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • There is a plaque in memory of Harry Willcock in the National Liberal Club of which he was a member. The hagiography states that he collapsed and died during a club debate about Liberalism versus Socialism and that the last word on his lips was ‘Freedom’.

  • That reminds me, I totally need a t-shirt with that on (“I am a Liberal and I am against this sort of thing”)

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Dec '13 - 5:16pm

    First of all, I don’t agree with celebrating people breaking modest laws.

    Secondly, I actually agree we need a Digital Bill of Rights – I think this is both reasonable and liberal.

    I get worried about the leftist rhetoric, but on this occasion beneath that is actually a very good bill. Good work from Tim and others.

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