Snoopers Charter

The government should not use terrorist incidents to support the idea of more surveillance and restriction on freedom of expression. The authorities have powers to eavesdrop and snoop on those under suspicion, where they have obtained a warrant to do so. There should be no more general powers.

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34 Comments

  1. Andyvan
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Should not, agreed.
    That doesn’t mean they won’t. Politicians often use a shock event for furthering the cause of government control. It is their default setting. A bad law is always the result.

  2. Jerry
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Even more so when the current coalition (both Tory and LDs) ran on manifestos more or less promising the exact opposite, in the shape of repealing/scrapping similar powers in place or being drafted by the Brown government back in 2010. With (suggested) laws like this being proposed, forget worrying about the EUSSR (the EU/ECHR might even come to the rescue), what about the ‘GBSSR’ – both the KGB & Stasi would would have been pleased with such data access…

    • Gary
      Posted May 30, 2013 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      Why is it that politicians so often make 180 degree turns when they assume power ? Is it related to John’s hint wrt Thatcher when he made a policy proposal to her and she said to the effect that , “they would not allow me to do it” ?
      And if so, do we in fact have a democratic voting choice ?

      • Mark B
        Posted May 30, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        Gary said;
        “Why is it that politicians so often make 180 degree turns when they assume power ? ”

        Because they can !

        If you want true democracy and representation you might want to look at the Swiss model of ‘direct-democracy’ and the actions of a few here in the UK who wish to have this form of democracy that which we have.

        I will not post a link, but you can find it if you are prepared to look.

        • Jerry
          Posted May 30, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

          @Mark B: “the Swiss model of ‘direct-democracy’

          Whilst many Swiss look to our own (UK) democracy as a better way of doing things, many Swiss simply feel that they are required to go to the referendum ballot box far to often, sometimes over trivial issues in the whole scheme of things simply because enough signatures have been obtained.

          Until Blair brought in a more presidential style of PM and government (that allowed the civil service and special advisor’s far to much power/influence) the UK didn’t really have the UK didn’t problems -more often than not any problems weren’t due to something being done, it was because nothing got done.

      • APL
        Posted May 31, 2013 at 7:37 am | Permalink

        Gary: “Why is it that politicians so often make 180 degree turns when they assume power ?”

        It is really simple Gary. When they want to get elected, they say things that are popular with the electors – and they perfectly well know what those popular things are.

        Once elected, the UK government resumes taking orders from the EU, the UN, or the Multinational Corporations, pretty much anyone other than the people who elected them, really.

  3. oldtimer
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    I believe you are right about this. More powers will provide more opportunity for the abuse of power. The state, whether the UK state or the EUrocracy, is already much too powerful. Recently evidence has emerged of the unreasonably extended periods of police bail taken by the police authorities – without proper justification or redress for those unfairly affected.

  4. APL
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    JR: “The government should not …”

    Yes, I agree. But we know the pattern by now. To paraphrase Jo Moore, it’s probably a good opportunity to get bad law through parliament.

    It’s what the executive does and why Parliament should act as a brake on the executive. That is what Parliament is supposed to be for!

  5. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Personally I do not mind extra surveillance I have nothing to hide and if someone wants to look at my very ordinary life they are welcome to do so. The problem is if they interfere with family relations, work relationships , general work communication and financial affairs then hack to change events in their favour then I cannot condone any extra snooping.

    • Horatio McSherry
      Posted May 30, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      margaret, how do you know you have nothing to hide? It’s not what’s illegal today, it’s what’s illegal tomorrow. You regularly contribute to this blog, and what is to say we won’t at some time end up with a Communist government who make it illegal to oppose anything the state wants to do on the grounds that whatever the state wants to do is in the greatest interest of the country. They will then view your long held association with an opponent of the State (our generous host) as contrary to the benefit of the country. You are therefore breaking the law and can be whisked away into the darkest depths of the Welsh coal mines and held for 7/14/28/56 days (indefinitely?) for everyone’s safety.

      • APL
        Posted May 30, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        Horatio McSherry: ” darkest depths of the Welsh coal mines ”

        I used to work underground in a Welsh coal mine. Good luck finding one these days.

      • margaret brandreth-j
        Posted May 30, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        I have made it quite clear that I am in favour of state and I have a good moral insight. I will behave according to those moral laws and am not paranoid to the extent of some. We also must credit the UK people with a little intelligence , if not MI5 and MI6.

  6. outsider
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Dear Mr Redwood,
    In principle I favour any law required to detect, pre-empt and prosecute anyone plotting against the people of these islands, whether those enemies come from within or without.
    In practice, one’s attitude depends on whether one trusts the central and local governments and their agencies to use the laws solely for that purpose and not to abuse them. We know that some (words left out ed) police forces have used anti-terrorism laws (for other purposes? ed)and that some local authorities widely abused what I think is called the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

    As I understand it, the “Snoopers Charter” has actually been framed so that it could be used to harass and oppress people who offended the authorities or broke laws that had nothing to do with terrorism, treason or sedition ( the last two not even being illegal now thanks to reforms by Mr Blair and his mentor Lord Irvine).

    If we combine this with the web of petty offences created in the past 25 years, such a law would just help the authorities to be able to arrest almost anyone at any time on some pretext or other. (Hence some of your warnings to those of us who comment on your blog.)
    So if new intelligence laws are genuinely required for the purpose touted by the Home Office, they must be so restricted that it would be a serious criminal offence to gather, use or pass on any information garnered by the snooping for any purpose other than protecting the physical safety of the people. Even the recommendations of the Select Committee may not go far enough to prevent abuse.

  7. Mike Wilson
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    So, why can’t you convince Theresa May of this? It is insane trying to monitor all email and mobile phone traffic – completely and utterly insane. As you say, you have the power to monitor people if you have a reason to – that ought to be enough.

  8. Angry of Mayfair
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    What is wrong with curbing “freedom of expression”? It seems to me that the spread of sex shops, lap dancing clubs and the availability of hardcore porn everywhere happened almost at the sametime as the financial corruption that also blights the lives of most of the UKs citizens. As things stand the UK is beginning to resemble the collapse of imperial Rome with its debauched currency and (some?ed) of its inhabitants swirling in a moral cesspit of their own creation

    • Gary
      Posted May 30, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      This debauchery is no coincidence. We have been party to a massive inflationary currency debasement with more to come.

      “Inflation, to sum up, is the increase in the volume of money and bank credit in relation to the volume of goods. It is harmful because it depreciates the value of the monetary unit, raises everybody’s cost of living, imposes what is in effect a tax on the poorest (without exemptions) at as high a rate as the tax on the richest, wipes out the value of past savings, discourages future savings, redistributes wealth and income wantonly, encourages and rewards speculation and gambling at the expense of thrift and work, undermines confidence in the justice of a free enterprise system, and corrupts public and private morals.” – Henry Hazlitt ,economist.

    • zorro
      Posted May 30, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      You don’t have to look at hardcore porn or go to lap dancing clubs if you don’t want to…..

      zorro

  9. Iain Gill
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    that most classic of all knee jerk legislation the Dangerous Dogs Act has failed massively to make any inroads into the problems of er dangerous dogs, we are still getting people killed by dogs regularly. we still have fighting dogs as a status symbol much worse in some places than others. knee jerk legislation does not have a good track record. and we still have dangerous dogs disproportionatley affecting some communities over others, I am sure if they were common in Chipping Norton some proper action would be done within the week…

  10. Posted May 30, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I agree, Mr Redwood.

    The trend of recent years of punishing the innocent in order to deal with the guilty must be reversed. It is cowardly and slowly turns us into a police state.

    We must rid ourselves of overseas courts and be firm with criminals.

  11. Atlas
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Agreed, John – otherwise we become like those we oppose.

  12. Denis Cooper
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    JR, I will use my ration of one comment a day (by the way, is that per article, or in total?) to say that I don’t think it’s at all helpful to talk about a “Snoopers’ Charter”, but if people insist on doing so then it begs the questions “Who would be the “snoopers”?” and “Why would they be “snooping”?”

    If the “snoopers” were a tightly defined group of carefully vetted people tasked with unravelling terrorist networks and frustrating their murderous plots, and if they were operating under strict rules, including very strict rules on their co-operation with foreign agencies including those in the EU, and if they knew that infringement of those rules would lead to disciplinary action and possibly criminal prosecution, then as far as I’m concerned they can have the legal power to investigate any aspect of my past and present life by any means that does not actually create any significant disturbance to my life.

    If they feel the need to secretly check up on my phone and email contacts and website visits and intercept and read my written mail, and explore all my financial transactions and my medical records and my travel history and all other aspects of my personal life, and maybe even cautiously approach other people to make confidential inquiries about me, then so be it; none of those surveillance activities of which I knew nothing would actually interfere with how I lived my life.

    Or they could contact me and make an appointment to come and interview me at home, if they wished, and we could discuss any concerns they might have over a cup of tea; I would however take grave exception if they got the police to unnecessarily smash my front door down in a dawn raid, a pernicious habit that our police have picked up from foreign police forces in recent years, and especially of course from the USA.

    Needless to say, in my case that would be a complete waste of the limited, inadequate, resources they had available for their assigned task of countering terrorism, the only outcome being that I could be eliminated as a terrorist suspect but still leaving tens of millions of people like me who could be similarly checked out and eliminated, and they should have enough sense to realise that and to choose their targets more carefully.

    I will add that my view on this has not been in any way changed by the Woolwich murder; last April JR published an article entitled “I agree with Nick – and with Vince!”, and my comment on that was on the same lines as this comment; and it is not because I am casual about civil liberties – far from it – but because I accept that the state must have effective, while still proportionate, means to protect itself and its innocent citizens from deadly enemies within, whatever their motivations.

    So I suggest that the best service parliamentarians could render would not be to whip up an emotional blanket opposition to a so-called “Snoopers’ Charter” but to remain cold and rational and insist that the legislation and operational rules laid down must be very tightly framed to guarantee that special powers necessarily granted to certain defined bodies for certain defined purposes would only be used by them and only for those purposes and would not be abused, and that if there was any abuse it would be punished.

    • zorro
      Posted May 30, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      I do not believe that this type of law is necessary. They have enough legislation to counter terrorist threats. They need to ensure they have excellent investigators to use these tools. The police will always come back asking for more powers. What this continual supposed improving of legislation brings is lazier policing……

      zorro

  13. Posted May 30, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    If it was just the security services and maybe the police with a magistrate’s warrant, I wouldn’t object to them having more power. But having seen the abuse of RIPA where it was used by various public bodies and councils to spy on people for trivial reasons, I must strongly object to any new powers which might be similarly abused.

  14. Mark
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I note that Stella Rimington the erstwhile head of the intelligence services called for us all to spy on our neighbours, as if we were in East Germany or Saddam’s Iraq. She also said the alternatives were more terrorism or a police state. It seems the moles have penetrated the very top of the organisation.

    George Smiley, where are you?

  15. Mark B
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    There were laws in place to prevent people/journalists hacking peoples phones, emails and other personal details. It did not stop them.

    The only way to stop bad people is to uphold the laws already on the statute, not create new laws that will,in their turn be abused or ignored.

    We must also not forget the local councils used terror laws to spy on people.

    We have all the laws necessary, we do not need new ones.

  16. nicol sinclair
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Dear Mr Redwood,

    How right you are (as usual). We do not need any further snooping laws to those already available to the police.

    I value my freedom of expression without it being subject to the whims of the local plod.

    As Margaret Brandreth-j avers, she has nothing to hide. However, as Horatio McSherry also avers, she doesn’t know what infringement she might assume in the future.

    Do I trust future governments? Certainly not.

  17. zorro
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Quite right John, and if we are to accept the official version of the Woolwich incident, they surely would have had these people under observation, but it still didn’t prevent it. If they had access to everything, I doubt that it would help much against terrorists, but it would certainly assist in targeting other offences which could bring in fines and revenues……It’s called mission creep……a bit like RIPA and the allocation of these powers previously to councils to snoop on bin terrorists or school allocation terrorists…..

    zorro

    • forthurst
      Posted May 30, 2013 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      “if we are to accept the official version of the Woolwich incident”

      The people need a bit of theatre, however surreal, before surrendering more of their liberties or going to war.

  18. DennisA
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Surveillance is hitting new levels in the US with the use of drones. Whilst we hear of them in connection with remote targeting of alleged terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan, they are increasingly being used in US home air space, ostensibly to prevent illegal immigration from Mexico, as described in this Washington Times editorial.

    “In a free society, there’s no place for a government eye in the sky constantly watching for signs of unrest. In keeping with the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement should seek a warrant before using the powerful search machines.

    Mr. Obama said the use of killer drones in “a perpetual war … will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways.” The same could be said of perpetual spying. It’s not paranoia if they really are watching you.”

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/may/29/drones-at-home/#ixzz2UmWOs3rs

    Meanwhile, here in the UK, we have an expanding facility for drones in West Wales:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/06/welsh-airfield-drones

  19. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    The government argues that it wants to be able to eavesdrop and snoop on those under suspicion WITHOUT obtaining a warrant. They say that they have no intention of snooping on the general public. I think we should beware of laws that depend on the intention of the government of the day. Some of the Labour government’s anti-terrorist legislation gave the executive powers that were subsequently used for different purposes.

    Slightly related: we should not cede powers to an embryonic German dominated European Federation just because Angela Merkel is a nice woman.

  20. Bob
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Rights are more easily given up than won and as David Davis once remarked: “If you give the government power they will abuse it.”

  21. Denis Cooper
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    As some people have been exceeding the recommended daily ration of just one comment, I too would like a second helping to say just this:

    1. I never read the draft Communication Data Bill and so I don’t know exactly what was being proposed, and I suspect the same is true of some others commenting here.

    2. My earlier comment dealt with what I see as being the principles of the matter and did not endorse any proposal in that Bill or highlight any deficiencies.

    3. It is for MPs and peers to ensure that any legislation is framed to restrict the special powers to those who actually need them to counter terrorism, and I see no reason why a new Act should not also amend previous Acts which opened the door to abuse.

  22. Chris B
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    One aspect of the Snoopers Charter that receives little comment is the potential scalability of the systems behind it. Once the police and security services receive the go ahead to install their links into the ISPs it will make little implementation difference whether they are monitoring tens, thousands or millions of people. Such is the nature of digital systems. By contrast RIPA and the Dangerous Dogs Act, mentioned above, are fundamentally limited by the number of people handling cases. I can see the point of isolated use of Snoopers Charter powers but the potential for abuse is so high that extremely strong oversight is required, sufficiently open for public reassurance. This seems to be completely lacking.

    It is an open secret among those in the datacomms security industry that the police in one of our European near-neighbours routinely ignore the requirement to obtain a court order before monitoring internet use. I am not satisfied that the same situation won’t develop here.

    • A different Simon
      Posted May 30, 2013 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

      Chris B ,

      Re your last sentence , best to assume it already is .

      Is there any attempt to prevent people accessing illegal or undesirable material or are they allowed free access to it under the illusion of anonymity and privacy just to cut them enough rope to hang themselves ?

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