Sunday, 26 May 2013

Back from the dead: the snoopers’ charter

We all thought the snoopers’ charter (aka the Communications Data Bill) was gone. We thought Nick Clegg had killed it off. We thought it was safely dead and buried.

But today, a loud creaking sound could be heard as two coffin lids opened. One coffin contained the Communications Data Bill. The other contained former Tory leader Michael Howard (who you may recall had “something of the night” about him). Besides Howard, various zombies from among the Labour Party’s former home secretaries also sprang into action, aided by the Liberal Democrats’ very own Alex Carlile, who seems to have gone over to the dark side.

The BBC reports:
Labour and the Conservatives could unite to push through the controversial communications bill despite Lib Dem objections, a former Tory leader says.
The reason Howard and other leading Tory and Labour politicians want to revive this bill – apart, of course, from rank populism and instinctive authoritarianism – is a knee-jerk reaction to the murder in Woolwich. It’s an example of “hard cases make bad law” if ever there was one.

In today’s Observer, Henry Porter explains why mass surveillance wouldn’t have saved Drummer Rigby:
Two former Labour home secretaries, a security minister and a former “independent” reviewer of terror laws have called for the swift review of the communications data bill, following the Woolwich killing. If I didn’t believe these were the first reactions to a shocking crime, I’d put the interventions of Jack Straw, Lord (John) Reid, Lord (Alan) West and Lord (Alex) Carlile down to cynical opportunism, because I’m afraid that is very much how it looked.
Give our guys the tools to fight terror on the streets, they say; “the proportionate tools”, eagerly adds the former reviewer of terror laws, Lord Carlile. But not one of them bothered to produce the smallest evidence that the type of surveillance proposed in the “snoopers’ charter” would have stopped the two suspects, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale.
The simple flaw in their case is that both men were already known to MI5, which was aware of their associations and radicalisation. The agency, it’s claimed, may even have tried to recruit Adebolajo. If intelligence officers had thought it necessary, they possessed all the powers they needed to monitor the pair’s emails, texts, phone calls and internet use. Some 500,000 intercepts are already granted every year. So the idea that giving police and MI5 untrammelled access to the nation’s communications data would have provided vital information that would have averted Lee Rigby’s murder is almost certainly wrong.
Porter warns us about the role of the civil service in persistently reviving this bill:
...the forces advocating oppressive laws are never far from the surface. At the Home Office, there are still several senior civil servants, most notably Charles Farr, head of security and counterterrorism, who are committed to mass surveillance. Not just out of the belief that the public would be safer, one suspects, but because their personalities incline them to authoritarian solutions – obedience and control over personal freedom...
Sooner or later, another surveillance bill will appear, probably devised by Charles Farr, and almost certainly supported by [John] Reid and his nervy, authoritarian pals. If interceptions are to be upgraded to meet the challenges of developing communications, we have to be sure that they are compliant with a fully functioning democracy.
It could be worse. We could have had a Labour government:
In response to this terrible event, the government didn’t do too badly and we should be thankful that, for the moment, we are not facing another Labour attack on our freedom.
This is why I have never shared the view of some of my friends on the left of the Liberal Democrats that we and Labour are somehow together on the ‘progressive’ side of politics. The enthusiastic support for the snoopers’ charter shown by John Reid, Jack Straw and Alan Johnson should serve to remind Liberal Democrats with short memories just how illiberal New Labour was.

Postscript: An excellent piece by Fraser Nelson in the Spectator:
On Friday, I was thinking how lucky we are not to have Tony Blair anymore. Had he been still in power, there would be about 12 new laws being rammed through parliament by now.

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