Tim Farron writes… Liberal Democrats can and must oppose a snoopers’ charter

snowdenLast week, Theresa May finally published the Investigatory Powers Bill. It isn’t surprising it has taken her so long to come back with a new Bill after we blocked her first attempt in 2012. At the time, I said the Liberal Democrats can and must oppose a Snoopers’ Charter. The 2012 bill was a disproportionate invasion of all our privacy, forcing internet service providers to keep a record of all your texts, emails and every website you visited.

Without us in Government the so-called Snoopers’ Charter would now be law. There would have been no Anderson review and no attempt at the safeguards we’re seeing put forward now. You can’t rely on Labour or the Tories to stand up for our hard won civil liberties. Only the Liberal Democrats can be trusted to do that.

We should welcome that on the most intrusive ideas Theresa May has seen the light. There will be no weakening of encryption – which would have made Britain a laughing stock and driven business abroad, and there are no powers to force UK ISPs to collect third-party data. These are all positive steps.

That doesn’t mean that it all looks rosy as Labour’s Andy Burnham seemed to suggest when he responded to the Home Secretary’s statement. The Home Secretary has created a sham of judicial authorisation that doesn’t fool me, the public or the experts. It is an utter disgrace.

Watching Labour’s front bench saying ‘We support the government’ was disturbing, they were about as useful as a nodding dog, but now they have moved somewhat, I guess since that day in the Commons they seem to have actually read the bill and then decided that we were right to flag concerns. But I will not put any stall by their recent change of heart, knowing Labour, they will change their mind again next week. Remember they’re the ones who tried to introduce 90 day detention, ID cards and allowed the fingerprinting of children in our schools.

There are major concerns, and as Nick Clegg said in the chamber the devil will be in the detail. This is where the Joint Committee will play their role in teasing out the Government’s position and demanding evidence that these new powers are actually needed. Last time the Home Secretary couldn’t provide the evidence and the Joint Committee was forced to conclude that the Home Office’s claims were “fanciful and misleading.”

Judicial authorisation is important.

These warrants are currently signed off by either the Home Secretary or Foreign Secretary and allow the content of our messages to be read. On closer inspection this “double-lock” is nothing of the sort. Something that Labour only seemed to realise after we pointed it out to them.

The decision to issue a warrant will remain with the Secretary of State with the judge only needing to review the decision applying “the same principles as would be applied by a court on an application for judicial review” – Clause 19(2).

Theresa May is giving judges a role as proof readers not decision makers. They can rule as to whether or not the Secretary of State has followed the correct procedure but not make a decision based on the evidence itself.

This is no concession and whilst Labour may have been fooled by Theresa’s smoke and mirrors we won’t be.

Equipment Interference – otherwise known as state-sanctioned hacking, which the Government only admitted they were doing in February this year has now been put on the face of the Bill. It is always preferable to have these things on the face of the Bill out in the open for Parliament to scrutinise and decide on than for it to be hidden in the shadows and denied – so I welcome some honesty, even if it’s taken them two years after Snowden initially made these revelations. . Equipment interference is highly intrusive and should be subject to serious safeguards and limited in its use and it is now Parliament’s job to make sure that the proposals are necessary, proportionate and targeted.

Moves to store Internet Connection Records (ICRs) too will need careful study. The Government claim that this is not a return to weblogs, one of the many reasons we blocked the draft Communications Data Bill and what Anderson said no operational case had been made for. It will be up to Government to prove to the Joint Committee that this is not the case and until then I remain suspicious of the Home Secretary asking for more powers.

My position is clear, the Liberal Democrats will make sure the public’s concerns are heard. We are the only ones who can be trusted on this.

* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Agriculture and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

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  • I read the headline and thought “Oh dear!” I read the article and thought “Not bad”!
    Yes, it would seem that Tim has taken the time to read and obtain good console.

    >”Moves to store Internet Connection Records (ICRs) too will need careful study.”
    The other area that needs careful study is just what is encapsulated in the broadly defined term “Communication Service Provider”, as it currently stands, this massively widens the net beyond the telecoms companies and ISP’s.

  • Glad Tim is looking seriously at this. There is a limit to what we can do with eight MPs, but the rest of us can damn well make some noise on social media, and in our local press, etc. It’s one area we all more or less agree on, as Liberals, surely. One way to get publicity on this is would be a public row with any Liberal peer who goes on the media to back the Government position.

    Now, what about the likely vote on Syrian intervention…? How are we lining up on that? Of our eight, four were For in 2013, and four DNV…

  • David Allen 11th Nov '15 - 7:14pm

    This does pretty well to avoid the dialogue of the deaf which generally prevails on this subject. On the one hand, the public will not easily be shaken from the belief that security is a good thing and is essential to save lives. On the other hand, the public also needs to understand the massive risks posed by a security state. Think of all the wrong Irishmen we locked up during the IRA campaign, as police desperate for someone to convict found someone. Think of the police spying on Stephen Lawrence’s parents rather than his murderers. Think of the Stasi, and think that next time it may be more likely that Britain, not Germany, goes that way.

    The answer has to be security with independent monitoring, and it isn’t clear that anyone has yet worked out a viable way to do that. Certainly, wheeling on a judge occasionally to rubber-stamp what has been done is a pretence. Tim is at least thinking, though more thinking is needed.

    How about random unannounced inspections of GCHQ by independent teams, with any GCHQ operative caught with his ex-wife’s emails on his screen summarily scaked and arrested? How about random audits, with an independent team selecting specific interceptions at random, investigating precisely what GCHQ did and how well it worked, and reporting any misdeeds or mis-steps? How about the right to demand and challenge the content of your personal file (a right which an innocent person fearing that they are a terrorist suspect would be keen to demand, while a real terrorist could become more conspicuous by not making any such demand)? How about more ideas, since these probably aren’t nearly good enough?

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Nov '15 - 8:26pm

    I was quite relaxed about this, but I’m presently annoyed with Google – they make it difficult to protect your privacy, as I have realised after logging into a shared device.

    It is possible to do it, I think, but it’s not easy and I wonder why Google needs things like my location history. Apparently it is all for “improving functionality”, but I don’t trust it.

    What if someone hacks into Google? How safe is all this information? Same with UK security services.

  • Little Jackie Paper 11th Nov '15 - 8:49pm

    David Allen – I don’t have a problem with your view on this as such, but when you say,

    ‘Think of the police spying on Stephen Lawrence’s parents rather than his murderers. Think of the Stasi, and think that next time it may be more likely that Britain, not Germany, goes that way.’

    I think I do have to take issue. Those examples are pre-internet. The fact of the internet is a big changer. As Eddie Sammon says the concentrations of data are (largely) voluntary. Indeed, LDV gives me a one-click option to put all my thoughts and history onto Twitter, Google and Facebook’s systems (which may or may not be in the UK). The argument against ID cards was essentially that it set up the framework for something intrusive, rather than that the cards per se were intrusive. That’s OK, but when it comes to the internet and privacy we (the people at large) set up the framework with social media and the like ourselves. We are the ones who handed it all over. We are where we are and we can’t put the genie back in the jar.

    Like you I don’t have a satisfactory answer, but then let’s at least not kid ourselves that the internet is some kind of latter-day utopia or qualitatively neutral to thinking. If our concept of the risks and where they come from are stuck with the Stasi and the 1970s then, with the greatest of respect, we aren’t thinking deeply enough.

  • Eddie with respect to Google and multiple users using the same user account on a device; what I suspect you’ve experienced with respect to gaining access to the browsing history of all prior users of that device, which may also include ‘private’ from home machine browsing(!) is a major security headache, however it isn’t totally Google’s fault (although they could make it much easier to purge user details and history from a device) the way the device is set up does play an important part. So f this shared device is a work machine or being provided to support public access, I would complain, loudly to the relevant IT people.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Nov '15 - 1:13am

    Hi Roland, my initial problem is that it is harder to delete search history than simply browsing history. I’ve managed to do this now, but the option to do so shouldn’t be in small print.

    Also, I turned off syncing devices, but when I logged into Youtube it seemed to sync anyway. Basically as soon as you log into a device with an account it downloads a whole load of information onto that device, so people should be careful about it.

    Then I got reading the “Activity controls” section on Google and basically turned them all off. If Google want to know what I’m interested in they should ask me, not snoop using all kinds of different options.

    Funnily enough it was not snooping by the state that awakened me from complacency, but corporations and shared devices. I could have just logged in with a different account, but I didn’t think so much information would be downloaded onto it. It was a Samsung tablet.

  • Does this render previous surveillance powers ilegal/superseded? If so it documents the de facto actions of the state and needs to be passed into law so that other bills can be introduced repealing the most draconian measures to specifically make them illegal. Then repeat until liberal utopia is achieved.

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