No to a surveillance society


             I have received a number of emails about the government’s plan to monitor the emails and website visits of every citizen. My first reaction to the headline news was “No”. I want to see our civil liberties protected and extended, and think the state already has too much power.

             The government is rowing back a bit, and now claiming that before the state could read our emails or have access to our computer use of websites it would need to obtain a warrant from a judge.  It would need to show evidence why it was suspicous about our conduct, and be investigating a possible crime.  I have no wish  to stand in the way of a proper terrorist or other serious criminal investigation, where the state has to persuade an independent person of their need for access. Indeed, that is a power they have already.

            I do not think I can decide how I will vote until I see the detail of the government’s proposals. My advice to the government is publish what you think you need, and describe carefully how it differs from present arrangements and why any change is needed. There is no appetite for a large extension of state surveillance of millions of innocent people. I will not vote for state surveillance through state access to all our electronic communications.


  1. Mike Sugar
    April 4, 2012

    I strongly recommend reading the blog post from Richard North on this very issue:

  2. Julian
    April 4, 2012

    One of the reasons it was so important to get Labour out at the last election was its instinct to monitor and control every aspect of our lives. It seemed at the time the Conservatives were against the ever encroaching state. What has happened? We know that if the state monitors most of what we do and prohibits the rest, there will be no crime, but that isn’t the point. That’s what Labour wanted but where is the appreciation for the importance of freedom that I would have thought was natural for a Conservative?

    Theresa May raised the spectre of Ian Huntley. The only way it might have been possible to detect what he was up to would have been to have 100% monitoring of everyone all the time in every detail. Her comment shows this is what she is actually proposes. It’s a police state worthy of East Germany under the Stasi.

  3. Nick
    April 4, 2012

    No surveilance without a warrant.

    Now what are you going to do about the people who had their phones hacked by the government because they put the wrong numbers on the warrants?

    Why isn’t the government paying Hackgate levels of compensation for their crimes?

  4. Nick
    April 4, 2012

    Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

    There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.


    So bluntly, you have the government setting out to abuse human rights.

  5. Alex
    April 4, 2012

    I voted Conservative at the last election. While I am in support of many coalition policies I am not impressed by many illiberal policies demonstrated recently. This one is a deal breaker though; I am appalled that this has even been proposed. It is a policy that Kim Jong-un would be proud of. I will not be voting Conservative again until the party has a different attitude to personal liberties, and I suspect (and hope) that your party has recently lost the support of a huge number of small-l liberals.

  6. JoolsB
    April 4, 2012

    Why is Cameron so intent on constantly upsetting every Conservative in the land from his backbenchers to Conservative supporters, many of them now ex-Conservative voters? Cameron and Osborne have just about upset everyone who is likely to vote for them with their pro-Europe stance to the granny tax to their proposals for gay marriage and now their proposed surveillance society reminiscent of some communist police state.

    Add to all that, the people of England, the very people the Tories will need to win an election, are still being discriminated against in Cameron’s pretend ‘union’ being the only ones whose youngster will be saddled with £9,000 tuition fees, the only ones whose sick have to pay for their prescriptions and exorbitant hospital parking costs, the only ones whose elderly will have to see their homes sold to pay for care and the only ones who will be affected by the proposed toll roads,whilst all the time Cameron refuses to address the English Question or the skewed Barnett Formula.

    If the true Conservative backbenchers, although scarce, don’t start shouting a bit louder against all these unConservative measures including hopefully standing up for their constituents now and again against the discrimination against them, Red Ed, God help us, will be in charge of the country come 2015 and the ‘Conservative’ party will be 100% responsible.

  7. Simon_c
    April 4, 2012

    One of the problems with the existing splits between “communication data” and “communication content” is that website URLs are classified as “communications data” where as they frequently contain content, not just the fact you visited a site, but your entire trip around a site. IMO, that is data that should only be accessible with a warrant.

    The 2nd problem is that most of what they suggest can be got around via technical means, thereby meaning only the regular person, who doesn’t think they have anything to hide (and who doesn’t believe in enforcing privacy on principle) is actually snoopable on. The real criminals and terrorists are years infront of the state in terms of their trade-craft.

  8. Paul Danon
    April 4, 2012

    Is this actually in response to an EU directive?

  9. Alan Wheatley
    April 4, 2012

    Once again we have confusion. Once again we have a debate, or is it an argument, about an issue when the facts of the matter are unknown, or imprecise, or both.

    Are the government indeed “rowing back a bit”, or, having heard Ken Clarke, is it that the first public/media assumption has been superseded by a better understanding of what the government actually said.

    It is a familiar tale, and it is very tedious and boring, and does no one any credit. In fairness, it is problem of human communications that goes beyond politics. I recall or several occasions being in a meeting where two people were arguing when in fact the difference between them was because one or both had miss-understood the issue, and once there was understanding differences disappeared.

    However, in politics in general and government in particular, where effective communication is a crucial part of trade-craft, such difference over what is fact should not arise.

    To take the case in point, exactly where has the government set out for all to see what it is they are considering and the arguments in support? How many of those chucking in their four-pennyworth had read and understood it all?

    We are for ever ill-served by journalists asking politicians for their opinion about something reported in the press. That opinion is pointless if the press report is inaccurate or incomplete. I am fed up with this lackadaisical approach to current affairs.

  10. Numbered
    April 4, 2012

    “The government is rowing back a bit, and now claiming that before the state could read our emails or have access to our computer use of websites it would need to obtain a warrant from a judge.”

    Given , one is left wondering, a warrant from which country ?

    “The United Kingdom has also notified its wish to participate in the proposed Directive.”

  11. Dr Dan H.
    April 6, 2012

    Way back in the mists of time, before there was an internet, we all used a protocol called telnet to remotely access machines. Telnet sends the password over the wires in the clear and when the internet started up, so did people with sniffers. People quickly learned not to use unencrypted protocols; the only reason unencrypted web is commonplace these days is that nobody much is snooping it.

    If you enact a law to force ISPs to install snooping machines, then all you’re going to do is make people use the existing suite of anti-snooping systems that already exist now. If I find I do not like my email being tapped, then I simply shift the hosting of my email domain to a neutral country (Switzerland, say, or Norway) and get it via POPS or IMAPS. The ISP can sniff the packets, and if they want to spend several million cpu-years they can maybe even read it.

    If people find that Government snoopers use the system to go on fishing expeditions to try to secure easy convictions over things like dubious porn site visits and the like, then either Tor onion routing or a Virtual Private Network (VPN) terminating in a known-neutral country is the easiest option. VPN services like this already exist; is but one such service, and we know they work since these are extensively used by businessmen (and indeed most people) in benighed pest-holes like Saudi Arabia where the government already tries to sniff internet packets.

    What doesn’t exist in more than a few places is an all-inclusive package that bundles offshore secure email, offshore VPN and secure offshore file storage all in one. If this idiot government enacts this moronic legislation, then I’d give it about five minutes before such a service gets set up. Alright, maybe ten, let’s be pessimistic here.

    What I’m getting at is this: the tools to foil man-in-the-middle attacks and deep packet inspection snooping already exist and indeed the likes of Facebook, Google and an increasing number of other people run their websites as encrypted by default. Enacting moronic legislation like this is not going to make your lives easier; it is going to do quite the opposite as people simply assume evil forces are at work all the time, and thwart them with existing tools. I would also caution you not to try to legislate against encryption as the ridiculous RIP Act tried; accept that properly used encryption makes communications impossible to intercept and leave it at that.

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