Civil Liberties, the internet and Tom McNally’s year 2000 promise

There’s a lot of understandable concern on Lib Dem bulletin boards about reports (such as this one on the BBC website) which appear to concern the Government’s Communications Capabilities Development Programme and a possible extension of government powers to track our activities on the internet.

While there are all kinds of problems with the original Sunday Times article that triggered the whole furore (which gets a good fisking on the Spy Blog), this kind of leak tends to happen for a reason. Indeed, I can’t think of any occasion where those of use who are suspicious of government motives in this area have been proved wrong!

Just to remind everyone where we started out on this, here’s a copy of the motion that Liberal Democrats Online (LDO) put forward to Bournemouth Conference in 2000. Tom McNally, now Minister of State in the Ministry of Justice responsible for freedom of information, data protection and data sharing, spoke in favour. Richard Allan, now Director of Policy for EMEA at Facebook, proposed the motion. And I summed up!

Conference notes the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill (RIP bill) currently going thorough Parliament.

Conference recognises that the Bill contains some beneficial provisions, for example ensuring that interruption of communications, surveillance and use of  human intelligence sources by police and law enforcement agencies are regulated to comply with the ECHR.

However, Conference believes that this measure is a severe threat to individual freedom and civil liberties in the UK.

Conference believes that the main threats to individual freedom and civil liberties from this legislation include:

  1. Any “authorised person” can demand access to your private access key (encryption key), without needing a warrant or court order, and thus read all your private correspondence;
  2. A presumption of guilt if you cannot provide your private access key, for example  because you have forgotten it;
  3. Internet Service Providers are required to allow the authorities access in order to  track all messages sent by all subscribers, again without need for warrant or court order;
  4. The Home Secretary is empowered to authorise unlimited electronic snooping “in the interests of the economic well-being of the UK”;
  5. A potential prison term for anyone who complains publicly about a miscarriage of justice under this statute.

Also, Conference believes this legislation will have a detrimental effect on the economic prosperity of the UK, as businesses using electronic communications will re-locate to countries that will not tolerate this infringement of civil liberty such as the Republic of Ireland.

Conference calls on all Liberal Democrats to campaign against the illiberal provisions of the RIP Bill.

Furthermore Conference calls on the Government to repeal the illiberal provisions of this legislation.

As far as I recall, the motion was carried overwhelmingly.

It’s not a perfect motion by any means and, to put it mildly, events and technology have moved on a bit since 2000. But, given his position back then, it will be interesting to see how much of this Tom will be able to put into effect now that he is a minister responsible for the area covered by the motion that he supported all those years ago!


Thanks to Chris Lucas for pointing out this very helpful blog-post on the ALDES blog highlighting how we updated our policy on the CCDP at our Spring Conference. (I would normally have got involved in this, but was somewhat tied up with the NHS!).

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2 Responses to Civil Liberties, the internet and Tom McNally’s year 2000 promise

  1. Hywel says:

    There are those who are saying we should wait for the details and can always put right the bill as it goes through Parliament.

    Of course that is the same approach people said should be taken with the Health bill.

    • Martin says:

      Completely agree. I’ve already been writing to Tom McNally outlining my concerns.

      If there’s one lesson to test from the NHS Bill fiasco, we need to try to sort things before the Queen’s Speech or before the bill is published. (Indeed, I tweeted just this a few hours ago!)

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