Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lords King, Blair, Carlile & West go to Westminster

My irreverent parliamentary sketch take on the the attempt to sneak the snoopers' charter into law is now available at The Conversation.

A copy of the slightly more serious original draft is below.
If you’re a fan of The Simpsons, you might recall an episode entitled "Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington".  Krusty the Clown gets elected to Congress and the family receive an education in the activities required to get things done in Washington DC. Against the ever decent Lisa’s better judgement, they surreptitiously attach an air traffic control bill to a bill giving US flags to orphans. The provisions get passed, thereby curing the Simpsons’ recent air traffic noise pollution problem created by Mayor Quimby.
This side of the pond we’ve had our very own version of the Simpson’s 2003 scenario playing out in recent days in the House of Lords. Lords King of Brigwater, Blair of Boughton, Carlile of Berriew & West of Spithead attached 18 pages of amendments to the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill the UK government are currently fast tracking (is there any other way with supposed anti -terror proposals?) through parliament.  These amendments effectively amounted to an attempt to sneak the snoopers' charter aka the Communications Data Bill (CDB) into law by the back door.  Basically the same snoopers charter that was emphatically rejected by Parliament's Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill.
The Joint Committee said the draft Bill paid “insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy”, was a “disproportionate” attack on fundamental human rights and the Home Office’s justifications for it were “fanciful and misleading.” Additionally they found the Home Office estimate of £1.8 billion in relation to the implementation of the Bill likely to be exceeded “by a considerable margin.”
Whilst watching laws or sausages in the making was not a pastime recommended by Otto Von Bismark, what passes for debate in Westminster really should be compulsory viewing (beginning here at 16:32) on occasion.
Led by Lord King, the gist of the excuses for clipping the thoroughly discredited snoopers’ charter to the already hugely problematic Counter Terrorism & Security Bill was, as I understood it:
·         The Lords don’t understand new technology but terrorists DO!
·         95% of the criticisms of the parliamentary joint committee investigating the snoopers’ charter have been accepted by the Home Office (so why try to pass the original?)
·         the principle has been established of data collection
·         Jack Straw likes it
·         We need targeted rather than mass surveillance (er… how does that marry up with passing a mass surveillance measure?)
·         Baddies are bad. Be afraid
·         Action is need urgently otherwise parliament will be blamed for not acting
·         Needs of security services and police must be met
·         The police desperately need the snoopers’ charter for ordinary crime fighting
·         We are now losing the technology race against the terrorists - there is a "horrendous gap that gets bigger each day" that prevents the security services doing their job
·         Comms data in Paris established connection between the murderers (not the fact they were brothers and one of the murderers claiming on camera they were connected...?)
·         The 4 lords calling for the snoopers charter amendments are experts so we should trust they know what they are doing
·         The government are not looking at content only the “outside of the envelope” and we should worry about private companies not government
·         We don't need studies - our nation's security is too important, so we must act now
·         Opponents are peddling emotive claptrap when we need the snoopers charter to protect children
·         It is an affront to the police and security services to call the CDB  the snoopers charter, thereby attributing exclusively malign motives to these brave men and women
·         If the French security services had known the wives of the Kouachi brothers had called each other’s mobiles 50 times, they would have prevented the terrible murders in Paris
·         There’s a sunset clause so we don’t need to worry about the snoopers charter being in place for very long
Lord Blencathra, the chairman of the joint committee that had so roundly rejected the Draft CDB, was one of a number of members of the House who spoke against the amendments.
In summary their position was:
·         The police already have excellent data handling and processing systems and have said all they wanted was the who, where and when not the “sweeping powers” the snoopers’ charter represents
·         Clause 1 of the snoopers charter is so obscure and so broad that it effectively has no limits
·         Parliament should not pass general and obscure laws that give security apparatchiks carte blanche to do anything with no checks and balances
·         It would be an affront to parliamentary democracy to bounce these kinds of powers into law by attaching them in undiluted form to a fast-tracked Bill
·         a distinction has to be made between powers to tackle terrorism and serious crime on the one hand - big money, big bucks, drugs - and the rest of crime on the other; it tarnishes the reputation of the big guns, like MI5, if local councils are using anti-terror regulations to pursue fly tippers
·         Parliament will be severely criticised if they rubber stamp the passing of such fatally flawed measures, particularly if they originate in the unelected House of Lords
·         The growing “horrendous gap” in the technological arms race with the terrorists is an exaggerated myth not supported by any credible evidence – members of the CDB joint committee were “angered” by the misleading claims
·         We need to engage with communities not create alienation and resentment by passing laws perceived to be disproportionately targeted at minority communities
·         You can only get good intelligence by cultivating good relations with communities - most plots are foiled because of intelligence from communities not high tech interceptions
·         Forcing mass corporate collection of personal data for subsequent security services access will lead to mission creep
·         Abuse of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 to track down journalists’ sources should be a stark warning of this
·         Regardless of any supposed sunset clause no future government would be prepared to remove the snoopers charter from the statute books for fear of being accused of being soft on terrorism
·         The use of the Tempora system means the security services are already acting beyond any extra powers this Bill will give them and parliaments should not grant these kinds of powers on the precautionary principle
·         These snoopers’ charter amendments are a “gratuitous affront to parliamentary democracy“ that must be “consigned to the dustbin of history.”
Lord Bates, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Criminal Information at the Home Office, then confirmed, as various members had claimed, the government have CDB 2.0 waiting in the wings. This masterpiece of parliamentary drafting could not be made available yet but some people have seen it, including Lord Blencathra, who confirmed it apparently addresses 95% of the criticisms his committee levelled at the original CDB.
There were several requests for the government to make CDB 2.0 available to attach to the Bill. Lord Bates declined, however. The government were concerned that both the tabled snoopers’ charter amendments and any version thereof, regardless of how pristine it now might be, would put the safe passage of the 53 page Counter Terrorism & Security Bill through the House of Commons at risk.
Lord King, accepting those concerns, though believing the powers therein to be more important than those in the rest of the Bill, then withdrew the snoopers’ charter amendment. In the course of doing so he made a really important point:
“what I do know is that the moment you get a terrorist outrage is when all the wrong things are decided. The pressure comes on that something has to be done, and it is much better to have decided in advance what you are going to do, in a measured way.”
The attempt to tag the snoopers’ charter to the already controversial Counter Terrorism & Security Bill, being fast tracked in response to the Paris terror attacks, displays little evidence, however, of a measured approach.
Closing note to Mr Cameron and potential successors: the security and intelligence and police services don’t need more laws, powers, personal data or money thrown at computer systems. They need more people i.e. experienced, well trained and effectively deployed human intelligence. 
It is important to note that the snoopers' charter has not gone away with Lord King's withdrawal of the amendment in the House of Lords on Monday, however. Our very own securocrat version of the Simpsons crew have made clear their intention to re-introduce it at the report stage of the Bill next week if they don't get some movement from the government in their direction on this. It seems the snoopers' charter is more important to them even than the section 21 provision of the Counter Terrorism & Security Bill requiring educators and other public servants to become the counter terrorism thought police. So it is to be recommended that a close eye be kept on proceedings.