“Reports about plans to snoop on your emails are complete nonsense” – Lynne Featherstone writes to Lib Dem members

Lib Dem members received this email from Lynne Featherstone at around 5 o’clock this afternoon:

I wanted to write to reassure you that the current reports in the media about Government plans to snoop on your emails are complete nonsense.

Liberal Democrats have always been, and will continue to be, opposed to a centralised database that allows government to monitor your internet activity at will.

That is not going to happen under these proposals and never will happen in a government that includes me and the Liberal Democrats.

The proposals being considered would simply update the current rules – which allow the police in criminal investigations to find out who was contacted and when – to cover new forms of technology that didn’t even exist when the original laws were made, like Skype.

What this will not do is allow the government, or the police, or any other agencies, to read your emails and Facebook messages (or any other social media for that matter) at will. The content of your communications is currently, and will always be, protected by tough rules that mean a warrant is needed before any interception could take place.

If you want more detail then you can find it here.

Our party has a proud history of defending civil liberties which has continued in this Coalition Government.

We’ve scrapped ID cards, ended child detention for immigration purposes, stopped indefinite retention of innocent peoples’ DNA, restored the right to protest in Parliament Square, scrapped control orders and ended 28-day detention without charge – to name but a few!

And as long as Liberal Democrats are in Government we will continue to fight for everyday freedoms that our party has long held dear.



PS Nick Clegg has been talking about this today – to see what he said click here.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Silent Hunter 2nd Apr '12 - 7:41pm

    So how come ALL the civil liberties groups are up in arms about it then?

    Is this reassurance that you give us Lynne, any more believable than the “cast iron promise” NOT to put student fees up?

    Somehow, I doubt it.

  • Is this a pledge?

  • “And as long as Liberal Democrats are in Government we will continue to fight for everyday freedoms that our party has long held dear.”

    I don’t know wether to laugh or cry at that statement.

  • Stuart Mitchell 2nd Apr '12 - 8:00pm

    Third Lib Dem MP today (after Clegg and Huppert) to go on about a “centralised database”, even though that isn’t the point.

    Nobody from the Lib Dems is refuting the key point of the story, which is that the authorities will be able to get access to details of who we communicate with, in real time, with no need for a warrant. In other words, it’s all true then.

    But then the government’s whole approach to civil liberties is one of spin over substance…

    “We’ve scrapped ID cards”
    Which as an entirely voluntary scheme didn’t threaten anybody’s civil liberties much anyway.
    “ended child detention for immigration purposes”
    Apart from the fact that children are still being detained.
    “stopped indefinite retention of innocent peoples’ DNA”
    Not yet.
    “restored the right to protest in Parliament Square”
    While removig the right to protest outside Lib Dem HQ.
    “scrapped control orders”
    Renamed and rebranded.
    “and ended 28-day detention without charge”
    Or rather, put it into a bizarre kind of legislative holding pattern – ready to be invoked as and when deemed necessary.

  • Getting a warrent is surly not such an onerous task for the police, so why does the governement need to do this? I can’t see the logic in this absolutely crazy decision.

    What I find worrying about the email is that the defence is that the government is not going further than the Labour party, did just expanding the scope to cover “new” platforms.

    The fact is that the Labour party went too far and the law should now be tightened up to require the police to obtain a warrent before searching the existing media covered by this power, not expanding the snooping ability further.

    I have been sympathetic of many of the govenments actions in other areas, given how exposed we areeconomically, but this has no justification and has economic arguments against it (a complicated legal position for technology businesses).

  • @ Steuart Mitchell

    ID cards were a trojan horse, the voluntary component was temporary untill they could raise the water temperature further and hope we wouldn’t notice.

    They will be back in the future, given a Labour or Tory government that has been in power for a few years, and a civil servant will reheat the proposal and try again.

  • paul barker 2nd Apr '12 - 9:09pm

    This statement actually makes me more worried. Why bring in a centralised database if not to throw sand in our eyes ?
    Why no mention of the proposed right to monitor in real time, the heart of these proposals ?

    I am not one of the habitual moaners, I am a fanatical loyalist, ready to defend almost everything the coalition does but the leadership have lost me on this. Just drop this idea now, please.

  • Keith Browning 2nd Apr '12 - 9:22pm

    So – it was an April Fool !!!!

  • paul barker 2nd Apr '12 - 9:28pm

    I make it 55 comments on this issue so far, 1 was in favour & another neutral, all the rest against. Some one “at the top” had better listen or come across with some better arguments.

  • Andrew Suffield 2nd Apr '12 - 9:29pm

    Nobody from the Lib Dems is refuting the key point of the story, which is that the authorities will be able to get access to details of who we communicate with, in real time, with no need for a warrant.

    That’s because the authorities can already get access to those details, in real time, with no need for a warrant. Labour passed that law in 2000 and this bill isn’t the one that changes it. Nobody can refute that because it’s true. It’s also not being introduced by this bill, it’s something you’ve been living with for 12 years.

    Why bring in a centralised database if not to throw sand in our eyes ?

    Easy: Labour wanted to make a centralised database, and LDs killed the proposal with grudging support from the Tories. Of course, since it was killed before it became law, nobody remembers IMP…

  • Adam Bernard 2nd Apr '12 - 9:42pm

    If something is a bad idea, bringing it up to date by allowing it to cover more technologies doesn’t seem the best plan ever. Especially since the technologies are not all analogous, and require different techniques to capture and store their content and metadata (whether it is stored by ISPs or centrally does not seem to be the most important issue here).

    Why not broaden the coverage by having all post offices steam open all our letters, photocopy them, and file them locally (awaiting a warrant from the Home Secretary, of course)? I get the idea that the only reason that it’s been left out of this proposal is the cost of all those kettles.

  • The cost of these proposals will be onerous and is apparently to be borne by the taxpayer.

  • Stuart Mitchell 2nd Apr '12 - 10:44pm

    “That’s because the authorities can already get access to those details, in real time, with no need for a warrant.”

    Why would the government draw odium upon itself by proposing to give itself powers it already has? It is widely reported (e.g. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17582974) that the government has no real-time monitoring capability yet, but if you know different, how does it work?

    “Easy: Labour wanted to make a centralised database, and LDs killed the proposal with grudging support from the Tories.”

    How could they do that when they had nearly 100 fewer seats than Labour? Labour’s proposals never got beyond the planning stage and had been put on the back burner long before the 2010 election. Theresa May revived the plans soon after and that’s how we got to where we are today. Whether the data is held centrally or not is a total red herring.

  • Stuart Mitchell 2nd Apr '12 - 10:51pm

    Psi: “[ID cards] will be back in the future, given a Labour or Tory government that has been in power for a few years, and a civil servant will reheat the proposal and try again.”

    Of course it will. I’ve pointed out before that most of the technical infrastructure behind the ID scheme was NOT scrapped along with the cards, and there are still cards for foreign nationals. As with child detention, “scrapping” does not, in this context, mean actually getting rid of entirely.

  • Please, Lynne, what we ask is for the parliamentary parties to be less damn credulous. Of course the intelligence services and their Home Office and Police cronies will keep coming back for extension of powers. Just because we are in Government doesn’t mean we have to accept more repressive law. We saw enough of that approach with Alex Carlile.

  • David Simpson 3rd Apr '12 - 12:16am

    Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.

    Pitt the Younger 1783

    Says it all really.

  • There’s already too much surveillance in Britain. It certainly doesn’t need extending. Also I can’t help thinking that these “protective” measures will be abused. I remember a few years back, that some councils (mostly Conservative ) were using anti-terrorism laws in school catchment area disputes. Unpopular governments and increased powers to snoop or are not an attractive mix.

  • Martin Lowe 3rd Apr '12 - 11:39am

    Following on from Richard Morris’ lead, I have also written back to the Party following Lynn’s email. Here it is:

    = =

    Dear Lynne

    I am shocked that anyone claiming to be a Liberal Democrat can support or try to justify these proposals. They are diametrically opposed to what it means to be a Liberal Democrat.

    Weasel words about a ‘centralised database’ mean nothing if every ISP is forced to log activity – you merely farm out your centralised database to the private sector and expect them to pick up the bill.

    In addition, allowing the State blanket access to call logs, email logs and browser history is a gross infringement of privacy even if content is not given to those that are interested in an individual’s day-to-day activities.

    Claiming that this is a modernisation exercise is deceitful on two grounds – the first I covered above, but the second is that Liberal Democrats should not be protecting the status quo on privacy laws but rolling back the invasive and authoritarian laws that Labour introduced during their term in office. For example, the Regulatory Investigative Powers Act (2000) still allows individuals to be imprisoned indefinitely if they do not surrender encryption keys.

    Our Party is facing tough decisions with serving in a Coalition, having to accept unpopular legislation in order to get some of our manifesto promises enacted. But this move more than any other threatens our position in the political spectrum. Labour have shown their authoritarian and illiberal nature, and now the Conservatives have shown their devious and opportunistic nature. By definition, we stand alone. But if the Party is to acquiesce to this frightening proposal, then there is no reason for the Liberal Democrats to exist.

    Please, please block these Conservative proposals immediately. I am certain that I am not the only Liberal Democrat who will terminate their party membership should they appear in the Queen’s Speech.

  • Tony Greaves 3rd Apr '12 - 1:27pm

    Some comments:

    (1) I thought we had got to the end of “heroic” and dangerous Tory nonsense in this government? Seems not.

    (2) what the heck are our people on theQuad doing letting another awful proposal through?

    (3) a warning – this is an issue that unites Liberal Democrats from left to right and back again. My guess is that there will be civil war in the party.

    (4) Sorry to say this but Lynne Featherstone allowing herself to be the fall-girl to pat the party on the head and tell us that everything is all right actually, when it patently is not, makes her look like a light-weight patsy. She really ought to have more sense.

    (5) There will again (as with tuition fees and the NHS) be a lot of argument which will satisfy the “my-party-right-or-wrong” brigade. But the political argument is already being lost. Another shed-load of LD voters and admirers lost. Are there any left?

    Big Brother and Little Brother.

    Tony Greaves

  • Leon Duveen 3rd Apr '12 - 1:31pm

    One point which seems to have completely been missed by these proposals is that it you route all your internet traffic through a proxy server (commercially availabe for a small fee and a qucik change to the settings on your browser) then all your email & browsing records will effectively be hidden from this attempt to snoop. This is not the only way round them, a qucik chat with on of the techies in the office gave me atleast two other ways of either masking oor hiding internet activity. Given that all we have left is a very expensive way of collecting data about the naive and guileless which will be availabe not only yo the police & security agenceis, but to anyone with the money and/or time to get through whatever securtiy there is on the database. So ther we have it, pointless, expensive and a threat to our civil liberties, what is there not to opose?

  • I agree with Tony Greaves

  • Louise ShawApr 03 – 1:33 pm………I agree with Tony Greaves……….

    So do I.
    However,as to “My guess is that there will be civil war in the party”; I disagree. This is not because there shouldn’t be over such infringements but, as a party, we have now drifted so far from our core values that I don’t believe there is any issue on which we will not compromise.;

  • Paul McKeown 3rd Apr '12 - 5:39pm

    I am afraid this email from Lynne Featherstone reads as if she is suffering from Home Office Stockholm Syndrome, taken captive by it and now taking its side. Terrible, it’s a bad day when David Davis looks more a Liberal Democrat than Lynne does.

  • @Lynne Featherstone
    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes ?

  • Richard Swales 3rd Apr '12 - 7:18pm

    I knew the Tories’ civil liberties stuff in opposition would quickly disappear one in government, I didn’t expect our ministers to “go native” in this kind of way. It may be true that it is updating the scope of an existing act, but as it is an act we don’t (didn’t use to) agree with, why do it? We should be rolling back the power of the state and repealing this act, or at least letting it become out of date and ineffective.
    The RIPA is yet another fence built before the house of free-man, slicing off another few feet from his front garden. Why repair the holes in it Lynne?

  • Patrick Smith 3rd Apr '12 - 7:27pm

    It is necessary for the defence of civil liberties to remain a core liberal principle and practice in Government and as the L/D President Tim Farron has asserted `Liberal Democrats did not scrap the ID Card to back creeping surveillance by other means.The State must n`t be able to trace citizens at will’.

  • I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

  • Richard Dean 3rd Apr '12 - 7:47pm

    Well, johnMC, that means you’re a true LibDem, stuck firmly in the middle! 🙂

  • Aside from the honourable exception of Tony Greaves, no-one from our Parliamentary parties has yet had the guts to come on here.

  • Adam Bernard 3rd Apr '12 - 8:37pm

    Tim13: Julian Huppert seems to have made his feelings pretty clear in a separate post. I’m rather more heartened by Julian’s stance on this than by Lynne’s reassurances.

  • Well this is nice. First we say we’ll abolish tuition fees, and we triple them. Then we say we’ll protect civil liberties and then we support a huge increase in government snooping on people’s electronic communications. Is there really ANY POINT in being a liberal democrat any more? Think not. Good night all.

  • Dave Cameron said, “Let’s be clear, this is not about extending the reach of the state into people’s data, it’s about trying to keep up with modern technology. “But we should remember that this sort of data, used at the moment, through the proper processes, is absolutely vital in stopping serious crime and some of the most serious terrorist incidents that could kill people in our country.”………………………..

    Is it just me or is that what Labour said?

    No! I must be wrong ‘cos Dave goes on to say…..” “Let’s be absolutely clear, this is not what the last government proposed and we opposed”………..I note he’s only “clear ” about not extending the reach of the state but he’s “absolutely clear” this is not what the last government proposed .

    However, Nick has pledged that the controversial proposals would include the “highest possible safeguards” so, surely, that must allay all our fears.

  • How ridiculous. Most people are aware that the plans don’t allow the government to “snoop” on the contents of messages, but they still provide the power to monitor who we are communicating with, and when. It’s akin to justifying the government tracking an individual’s movement between locations at will, but promising not to monitor which rooms you enter once you have arrived somewhere.

    A coalition may require compromise, and I accept that. I could overlook a few less pleasant compromises, like that on student fees, as a necessary part of being in a coalition. But this is a step too far – expecting liberals to stand for this insult to liberty would be like asking the Tories to start singing “The Red Flag” at their conferences.

    All this talk of “ordinary people” having “nothing to worry about” from the likes of Theresa May, and from the senior Lib Dems like Featherstone who are echoing these comments, are in themselves frightening. One could imagine an abattoir worker telling a young cow that they have “nothing to worry about” in a similar fashion.

  • There is lots of talk of safeguards… the best safeguard is not to introduce the powers in the first place.

  • I agree with Tony Greaves too.

  • Silent Hunter 4th Apr '12 - 3:53pm

    I think Simon has the most salient point . . . . Is there a ‘point’ to being a LibDem anymore?

    Clearly, given the performance in the coalition government . . . the answer has to be . . . No!

  • Simon Hebditch 5th Apr '12 - 9:53am

    I take for granted that Liberal Democrats will resist all attempts to curtail our civil libertiesby an overwheening state. But what also worries me is the complete strategic ineptitude of the Lib Dem leadership. These proposals ahev been in the pipeline for some time. Preparation for a Queens Speech doesn’t happen overnight. So, as Tony Greaves has said, why did the Quad let them through? Once again Nick Clegg has not taken account of an entirely predictable reaction from the party? The trouble is so called red lines are crossed all the time. Is there nothing which the parliamentary partty will resist to the point of ending the coalition? Apart from, of course, the entirely flawed deficit reduction strategy!

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