Lord Brian Paddick writes…Lords debate Anderson Report – you have to know your onions

GCHQ Bude by Paul WalterDavid Anderson, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation’s recently published report on investigatory powers was debated in the House of Lords last Wednesday.  Anderson was tasked with advising on what should replace the Communications Data Bill a.k.a. the Snooper’s Charter and other, existing legislation, that allows the state to invade individual’s privacy for the purposes of terrorism and crime prevention.

The Government Minister and other leading Tories talked-up the threat posed by terrorism.  I told the House we should listen to Anderson who said in his report ‘claims of exceptional or unprecedented threat levels – particularly if relied upon for the purposes of curbing well established liberties – should be approached with scepticism’.

Lib Dem Peer, Paul Strasburger led the charge with a comprehensive critique of the existing legislative framework and how the police and security services had been caught misusing existing powers.  Whatever follows must include greater safeguards and more effective scrutiny so as to ensure public trust.

Paul Scriven joined in our side, warning that while terrorists want to undermine the values we hold dear, there was a danger that giving draconian, authoritarian powers to the police and the security services to intrude on our privacy was effectively doing the terrorists’ work for them.  Searching for terrorists online is like looking for a needle in a haystack.  We need a targeted and proportionate response to the threats we face.  Bulk collection of everyone’s web logs, for example, is simply going to make the haystack bigger.  Anderson was quite clear on the way forward: ‘If a sufficiently compelling operational case has been made out, a rigorous assessment should then be conducted of the lawfulness, likely effectiveness, intrusiveness and cost of requiring such data to be retained.’  The fact is, communications using applications such iMessage, WhatsApp, Wickr and even Facebook Messenger are all now encrypted, so even if everybody’s web history was kept and interrogated, it would still not be possible to establish who was communicating with who, from where and when.

The fact is, technology is outpacing not only the police and the security services but also the legislators.  A law passed earlier this year that requires communication services providers (CSPs) to keep data on IP addresses and other information to identify the device used to communicate using the Web.  That doesn’t help if you use a Virtual Private Network (VPN).  If you do, the IP address registered by the CSP is that of the VPN and not of the device being used.  VPN’s like ‘Toro’ (the so-called Onion Router) uses 6,000 computers around the globe to encrypt traffic and disguise the IP address and all other data that might identify its users, so not even the VPN provider knows who you are.

My conclusion is clear.  The future capability of the police and the security services to defeat terrorism does not lie in greater legal powers to collect data on everyone but in agents of the state winning a technology arms race with the criminal.

Photo is of GCHQ Bude by Paul Walter


* Brian Paddick Is Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Home Affairs. He was Deputy Assistant Commissioner in London's Metropolitan Police Service until 2007, the Lib Dem candidate for the London mayoral election in 2008 and 2012, and a life peer since 2013. He is joint President of LGBT+ Lib Dems.

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  • Jamie Stewart 11th Jul '15 - 12:29am

    Interesting debate to highlight, particularly of interest to liberal democrats, but I’m not sure about your conclusions. I suspect that the ability for complete privacy over the internet will have to be lost, although the exercising of those powers to listen in will have to be tightly regulated. The easy way for privacy to be curbed is to force the ISPs (or CSPs) to retain more information than just IP addresses, including the use of encryption, and for the government to force CSPs to prevent encryption if criminal activity is suspected.

    Obviously, this view won’t sit well with liberals, but I think that the internet is not real life, and people need to realise that. In losing 100% certain anonymity on the web, I don’t think we actually lose a civil liberty. In real life when you say something, it normally isn’t recorded for posterity, but on the majority of social media and websites, others can easily copy what you have written and save it forever without your consent.

    The other obvious, unspoken truth is that it is ridiculously easy for CSPs to monitor all the unencrypted information passing through their servers, and I would rather that those powers were well regulated by a democratic government than just ignored and not legistated for.

  • I just don’t understand why LDV, or indeed Lib Dems in general, call people ‘Lord’ or ‘ Lady’ or ‘Dame’ or whatever. The Honours system is such an antiquated thing and I think Liberal Democrats who have had such a title bestowed on them would be embarrassed by their fellow liberals referring to them by their title. We’re all equals aren’t we?

  • Thanks Ian but it’s not an isolated incident.

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