Saturday, October 26, 2013

Letter to MP re parliamentary debate on surveillance

Following a prompt by the Open Rights Group I have written to my MP asking she intervene positively on the side of privacy or at least follow her conscience rather than party orders in the debate on mass surveillance in parliament next Thursday. Copy of my note below.
Dear Ms Blackwood,
As you know, MPs Tom Watson, Julian Huppert and Dominic Raab have secured a 'Westminster Hall' debate in Parliament next Thursday, on 'oversight of intelligence and security services.'
Intelligence agencies have significant powers to collect and analyse private information. It is Parliament's responsibility to ensure these are necessary, proportionate and that they are not abused.
We now know from Edward Snowden's leaks that GCHQ has developed a range of mass surveillance programmes, for example the tapping of undersea fibre-optic cables under the codename 'Tempora'. From the information published so far, it seems clear that surveillance law is unfit for the digital age and that significant reforms are needed.
Debates about the limits of surveillance and the oversight of intelligence agencies are being held in America and across Europe including potentially historic hearings on the matter in the EU parliament LIBE civil liberties committee. Whether the latter hearings come to be seen as historic will largely, of course, depend on the change they can effect.
MPs in the UK, however, have seemed reluctant to take the initiative and discuss mass surveillance by UK intelligence services. And so far the Government have only seemed worried about whether newspapers should have told us anything about the surveillance.
It is high time a substantial debate took place in the UK too. The debate next Thursday will be the first substantial debate in Parliament about the mass surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden. It is an opportunity to begin the process of updating our surveillance laws so they better respect our privacy and are more fit for purpose in facilitating targeted electronic surveillance with the appropriate checks, balances and oversights to inhibit the abuse of such laws.
I'm writing to ask you to speak up about this issue in the debate. There is a long and a short articulation of why this issue is one of the most fundamental questions of the information age. I appreciate you are busy so I'll use the short version. Simply speaking the evolving infrastructure of our surveillance state represents a clear and present danger to our democracy. If that sounds like hyperbole then I would just ask you to take some time to read two essays on the subject by hugely respected commentators - Bruce Schneier's Power in the Age of the Feudal Internet available at and Evgeny Morozov's The Real Privacy Problem at
I would ask that you consider the issues carefully and draw your own conclusions rather than follow the party line. The matter is far too serious to be in the business of just following orders.
If you would like some further details don't hesitate to get in touch. I'd leave you with one final thought. Nearly 250 years ago, Lord Chief Justice Camden decided that government agents are not allowed to break your door down and ransack your house and papers in an effort to find some evidence to incriminate you (the case of Entick v Carrington (1765) 19 Howell’s State Trials 1029, 2 Wils 275, 95 ER 807, Court of Common Pleas).
The good judge also declared personal papers to be one’s “dearest property”. I suspect he might view personal data likewise in the internet age. I understand Lord Camden's reasoning in Entick became the inspiration behind the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution which offers protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. For a quarter of a millennium, fishing expeditions of the type that the GCHQ and NSA are engaged in have been considered to fundamentally undermine the rule of law. It's time Parliament brought these modern practices into line with that rule of law.
Thanks for your time and consideration.
Ray Corrigan

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