Monday, December 01, 2014

Email to MP re Counter Terrorism and Security Bill

The 2nd reading of Counter Terrorism and Security Bill is due in the House of Commons tomorrow.

Prompted by the Open Rights Group I've written to my MP, Nicola Blackwood, about it. Copy of my email below. Some of ORG's concerns are outlined in their briefing on the Bill.
Dear Nicola,

The latest government proposal, the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill, gives me cause for significant concern.

The ill-judged Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act was, as you know, rushed through as emergency legislation without proper parliamentary scrutiny in the summer, the week before MPs went on holiday.  The use of the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby as an excuse for introducing these new measures, expanding DRIPA and the further expansion of additional surveillance powers, is unconscionable.

With an election round the corner, we should hardly be surprised that party managers might be encouraging senior figures to ramp up their “tough on terrorism” rhetoric. However, Lee Rigby, who dedicated his life to defending the freedoms we enjoy in the UK, deserves better from our political leaders.

The UK survived two world wars, the cold war, multiple other military adventures and domestic bombing and violence orchestrated by groups like the IRA. Yet in the face of small numbers of violent religious extremists, successive UK governments, in the past 15 years, have normalised mass surveillance and done more damage to the legal infrastructure protecting our fundamental freedoms than any collection of deranged vicious clowns with access to dangerous weapons could do in a lifetime.

The Counter Terrorism and Security Bill is unfortunately building further on that trend.

1.       It introduces an obligation on public bodies including universities, schools, nurseries and councils to prevent terrorism. I've read this section 21 provision of the Bill repeatedly in the hope of making some sense of it. Yet the truth is, as a university educator with an interest in law and technology, I have genuinely no idea of what it is going to mean in practice.
2.       It expands the kind of meta-data that ISPs are being required to hold onto to help identify our IP addresses. This fundamentally misses the subtlety that an IP address denotes a device, not a human being.

3.       Mobile Phone companies do not currently log IP addresses because of differences in the technology to mainline broadband providers. They have been told they have to find a way. This will cost the taxpayer £100m over 10 years.

4.       The problems with the Bill are much wider than digital rights concerns. It also includes temporary exclusion orders, banning suspects from Britain for two years, even if they are British citizens.

5.       We are not currently facing a national emergency, so Parliament should not rush through this kind of legislation. We need proper scrutiny by MPs, Peers and civil society.

6.       The European Court of Justice (in the Digital Rights Ireland case this year) ruled that blanket data retention was incompatible with of articles 7, 8 and 52(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. New laws should comply with that judgment. Neither DRIPA nor this proposed new Bill do so.

7.       The ECJ said that there should be a relationship between the data being retained and a threat to public security. However there are no restrictions to time, place or people in this Bill.

8.       DRIPA is even now the subject of a legal challenge, brought by the Open Rights Group and Liberty challenge. It may well be found illegal, while these new provisions are still being paid for.

Could I recommend for your review, the same Open Rights Group's analysis of the proposals in this Bill, available at  

Again you will not be surprised, given our previous correspondence, that I'm of the view that existing mass surveillance activities and powers need reigning in not expansion. Indeed the coalition government came to power on a promise of cracking down of the worst excesses of the previous government's database state. Rather than fulfilling that promise the current government has normalised and expanded these operations and powers. I hope when history comes to be written it will not judge the coalition's performance favourably on that score. Only then will we be sure that fundamental freedoms, under sustained attack by comparatively tiny numbers of terrorists and the bulk of the current, often well-intentioned but scientifically, mathematically and technically illiterate mainstream political classes, have survived intact.



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