A letter to Yvette Cooper and Sadiq Kahn

Dear Yvette and Sadiq,

At the Open Rights Group’s annual meeting, ORGCON 2013, which was held last week end under the shadow of the Guardian’s scoop exposing the US Government’s industrial  scale invasion of the rest of the world’s privacy, one of the panel sessions was on the subject of the stalled Communications Data Bill.

Julian Hupert MP was speaking and said that Clegg’s veto on Parliamentary time will ensure that unacceptable legislation will not get through this Parliament. He referenced the pre-legislative joint parliamentary committee, the report from which was unanimous but stated that the Labour Party supported the passage of a revised version of the Communications Data Bill. He said this in the context of his inaccurate boast that only Lib Dem vote in 2015 will ensure that the UK never has such a surveillance system.

The passage of the Communications Data Bill would have enabled a surveillance system that the Statsi would have been proud off. The Joint Committee rightly described it as disproportionate and fanciful.  Yvette welcomed the report, saying,

…this gives too much wide ranging power to the Home Office, provides too little protection for people’s privacy, and no proper safeguards over cost.

As we know, the Home Office have no intention of giving up, and events in Woolwich last month when Drummer Lee Rigby was attacked and killed became the event which leads to the Securocrats, including some of Labour’s own ex-Home Secretaries calling for the Bill’s reintroduction.

In the BBC’s reporting of this story, they say,

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan told the BBC the original bill would have given the home secretary too much power, been too expensive and did not have the right checks and balances.

“If she [the home secretary] wants to come back with a new bill, of course we will work with the government to make sure we can give the police and the authorities the proportionate powers that they need,” he said.

I note that Sadiq does not diminish the Labour Party front bench’s commitment to proportional powers, balancing the police need to investigate with the public’s right of privacy. I read Sadiq’s comments as a promise to discuss timetables. I hope I am right.

The BBC reports today an open letter signed by three Labour ex-Home Secretaries, together with two Tories and one Lib Dem peer, Lord Carlile, asking that the Tories work with Labour in Parliament to revive the Communications Data Bill. I am unable to comment on the extent to which they are concerned about the privacy intrusions inherent in the previous bill since the BBC did not publish the letter which is to be published in the Times presumably behind a pay wall; I do not propose to pay the Murdoch press to read it.

Privacy is an issue of importance to the Labour Party and the Trade Union movement. The last time Government extended the Police and security services surveillance powers they were used against ordinary workers and activists who were organising strikes to defend their wages and jobs. They did this under the excuse of national security.  Today we see the continued victimisation and blacklisting of trade union activists by the building and construction trade, almost certainly in contravention to the current privacy laws. Prior to that MI5 were bugging and spying on leading civil liberty campaigners including Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt.

The creation of a database with the UK citizen’s web history would be a mistake of gravest order. Not only is it unlikely that it could be kept secret from unscrupulous bosses and other criminals but it is likely that Judges would incrementally extend the crimes which it is valid to use this data for. It may start with Terrorism but it will be extended via child protection to computer misuse. The UK will follow the USA into the lunacy where rapists get lighter punishment than their pursuers. (See i.e. google “Steubenville Hacker”). None of this will make the people of Britain any safer.

Furthermore there is no judicial oversight in today’s systems. Who is targeted is in the hands of politicians; their decision making is secret. It should be the cornerstone of our opposition. Police action that breaches our Article 8 rights to privacy should be overseen by judges.

You should also consider the defence of Parliamentary Privilege and the Wilson Doctrine; the UK Intelligence services are currently prohibited from monitoring MPs.

Privacy is a Human Right. Privacy is necessary in a democracy for political organisation.

You have the opportunity to continue to do the right thing, to balance the privacy of the British people against their safety from terrorists. Please do not backtrack on requiring any extension of Police powers to be proportionate and effective. The sad thing is that Labour’s record in power is such that allegations that we would support the unwarranted

The best way to defend democracy is to be one.

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