Citizens not Suspects

I attended the Open Rights Group’s London meetup on Monday night; Rachel Robinson, Liberty’s Policy Officer was speaking at the Angel, a pub near Old St, probably the inspiration for the London monopoly board space. She spoke about planned legistation in the UK known variously as the Communications Capabilities Development Programme or the Communications Data Bill. Interesting how the British Government develop such annodyne names for their oppressive measures, the Digital Economy Act vs the US “Stop Online Piracy Act” or the “Commerce before Leisure on the Internet Act”, I made the last one up, or I think I did.

This is a proposed law sponsored by Britain’s securocrats, proposing that all message header data on the internet in the UK is stored and available for use by designated law enforcement authorities. The ORG have a wiki page detailing the current proposals with pointers to Govt. resources, intra-coalition politics, European legislation and the previous Labour government’s actions and eventual decision to drop the proposals. The law proposes to keep message envelope data for 12 months, establish the legal and regulatory powers under which it can captured and used, places new duties and on internet firms and establish the financial authority to pay for it. Yup, at the moment the Government plan to pay for this “capability”.

Rachel pointed out that everyone expects a level of privacy, contrary to Paul McMullan’s of News International’s views expressed at the Levenson Enquiry into press ethics. Collectively we have been writing laws defending citizen privacy from Government for over 200 years, for example, the 4th Amendment to the US Constitiution which mandates a warrant which can only be issued where probable cause is proven. Liberty and ORG are trying to brand the Bill as a “Snooper’s charter”, more high brow is the slogan that we’re

Citizens not Suspects

This to me defines the reasons for objection to this intrusive law. Britain’s secret police want to read all the internet traffic within the UK because some of it might be interesting to them; some of the internet’s users are up to no good. If you think that’s reasonable, open up your browser’s history; I did this the other day to look for an article I hadn’t bookmarked. There is no doubt in my mind that a person’s browser history is Confidential Information.  Rachel then spoke about the issue of proportionality, she said that Liberty found the blanket nature of the intrusions the problem, and that they wouldn’t necessarily oppose intelligence led surveillance. It was the supposition that everything needs to be seen, to treat the whole of the citizenary as suspects that led Liberty to oppose these proposals just as they worked over the last five years against extending the surveillance state from suspects to everyone, which is why they opposed the proposals for a national ID card and database and why they campaigned against the police’s arguments to retain innocent suspect DNA.

When reading the ORG page on the CDP, I came across this quote, from Teresa May, the Home Sceretary

“I just don’t understand why some people might criticise these proposals. I have no doubt conspiracy theorists will come up with some ridiculous claims about how these measures are an infringement of freedom. But without changing the law, the only freedom we would protect is that of criminals, terrorists and paedophiles.”

The bizarre thinking exposed in this quote, is that, with access to encryption, the criminals will avoid detection, it is only the innocent who will be spied on; and she’s wrong, everyone has a right and need for privacy against this sort of intrusion.

One of the arguments used by the geek tendency in the ORG is that it is unlikely that such a system could be kept secure; even the header information will be of value to some people and stoping determined well resourced hackers is exceedingly difficult and the UK Government’s track record on effective, on-cost project implementation is not good. They propose to gather everyone’s internet history into one place, and they can’t ensure it’ll be kept private. It’s valuable, someone will try to get it, someone will succeed. Another problem is that once the government has these records, a number of so-called private crime fighters will be looking at legal ways to re-use this information. The copyright infringement hunter’s trawl net the Norwich Pharmcal order was originally won against HMCE; private interests have  the right to access government held private and confidential information, albeit court supervised. The spooks may say they want this to fight terrorism and child porn, but the courts will disclose this to the rich to fight any crime, even crimes where the public prosecutors feel there is no case to answer [ To see what I mean check out what I say | the Guardian says ].

Rachel pointed out that this sort of blanket surveillance runs counter to the not just rights to privacy, but also to those of Freedom of Assembly. Those who doubt this need only to compare the powers and ambition of the proposed laws and the practices of the states including China, Zimbabwe and Iran. The internet is one of the primary ‘places’ for political organisation and conversation, and this is well understood by these regimes who lead in the exercise of electronic surveillance and censorship. There are growing campaigns to boycott and sanction the companies that sell the technology to implement this sort of thing. It’d be an irony if having passed the laws to protect us in this way, that the government couldn’t buy the equipment to implement it. It’s sort of quite interesting, and lucky for me that this article has taken so long to publish. I suggest that getting hold of some of the necessary hardware will be hard, but it seems the vendors are well ahead of me. edri.org runs a story about how the EU’s Clean IT project is planning to implement continent wide general filtering. They reply here.... For them, it’s just business as usual, and if they are stopped by world wide dual use product trade embargoes from shipping to the human rights pariahs of this world, of course they are going to look to the biggest single market in the world, Europe.

This law’s proponents claim that this would be the UK’s implementation of the the 2006 EU Data Retention Directive, however this is now attracting growing opposition in Germany, Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic; it’s no surprise that this oppositon comes from states and peoples with a hightened sense of the difference between a totalitarian state and a democracy. It really doesn’t take very long when looking at these laws to get to Lord Denning’s quote, which I shared in my last blog article on the Communications Data Bill. I repeat the quote below.

One of the key liberties needed to exercise political freedom of association is the right to act anonymously, firsty to listen and secondly to speak. These laws seek to abolish this freedom. Liberty believe these proposals are illegal and if they are made law, plan to launch cases for judicial review but it’ll take some time for such cases to get to Strasbourg, the home of the Court of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It all reminds me of the last time the buggers and burglars of MI5 decided to spy on the so-called enemy within. I wrote briefly about this after the last ORG London Meetup, and pointed at the Channel 4 documentary, which details the surveillance of officers of the NCCL (Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt), Liberty’s predecessor organisation and also national officers of the CPSA and Transport & General Workers Union (predecessors of PCS and Unite); you don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to consider that the spooks of Cheltenham will misuse these powers, merely a historian. Lord Denning in one of his judgements stated that,

“…the Security Services …are to be used for one purpose and one purpose only, the defence of the Realm. Most people in this country would, I am sure wholeheartedly support this principle for it would be intolerable to us to have anything in the nature of a Gestapo or Secret Police to snoop into all that we do…even at the behest of a Minister or a Government department…”

Actually, the real exponents of 100% surveillance were East Germany’s secret police the Statsi, a regime so oppressive that even their border police defected.  Peter Leibing’s famous photograph of East German border guard Conrad Schumann legging it over the Berlin Wall Here their first defector is seen legging it to freedom.  I got this picture from Der Irische Berliner blog, where its author, describes its provenance in this article, the problem with Berlin. I have subscribed to this blog.

1 Comments.

  1. #lab12 conference diary | Well Red - pingback on October 6, 2012 at 12:08 am

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