Communications Bill and Labour Party Conference

I have just returned from Labour Party Conference in Manchester, trying to recover with coffee and cake. Good excuse for cake !

I wanted to do a speech at Conference. I haven’t been able to do one yet. And thus  my third Conference, still not managed it. Maybe next time ?

I would like to share my speech to you, written by a brilliant lecturer called Paul Bernal. You can find him at @Paulbernaluk

The speech is about the Communications Bill and here it is, putting on my best voice :

“The Labour Party should be opposing the Communications Data Bill.

First of all it is important to understand what the Communications Data Bill actually does- and why it has deservedly gained the nickname *Snoopers Charter*. The premise is actually very simple: it proposes universal surveillance of all internet activity, for everyone.

This Bill is not just a modernisation of existing peers, nor a way for the police to ‘Catch up’. It is something on a wholly different scale. We as citizens are being asked to put a huge trust in the authorities not to misuse the kind of powers made possible by the Bill.

Trust is important – but what characterises a lib era; democracy is not trust of authorities but their accountability, the existence of checks and balances, and the limitation of their powers to interfere with individuals’ lives. This bill, as currently envisaged, does not provide that accountability and does not sufficiently limit those powers : precisely the reverse.

Even without considering the issues discussed above, there is a potentially even bigger flaw with the bill : it is very unlikely to be effective. The people that it might wish to catch are least likely to be caught – people expert with the technology will be able to find ways around surveillance.

The entire project needs a thorough rethink. A more intelligent, targeted rather than universal approach should be developed. The people who most understand the internet- from computer scientists to lawyers in academia and in industry- all suggest that the project is fundamentally misconceived. Why aren’t we listening ?

No evidence to counter this has been made public to support the suggestion that a universal approach like this would be effective- it should not be sufficient to just suggest that its is ‘needed’ without that evidence, nor to provide ‘private’ evidence that cannot at least qualitatively be revealed to the public. We have the right to know.

That brings a bigger question into the spotlight ; what kind of a society do we want to build- one where everyone’s most intimate activities are monitored at all times just in case they might be doing something wrong ? That is what the draft Communications Data Bill would build. The proposals run counter to some of the basic principles of a liberal, democratic society – a society where there should be a presumption of innocence rather than suspicion , and where the privacy is the norm rather than the exemption. Is that what the Labour Party would really like to support ?

This is an area where Labour should be taking the lead. If we are a progressive party, standing up for ordinary people, we should be opposing this bill, and opposing it vocally. It would need a break from the past, a recognition that mistakes were made in the past, particularly to counter-terrorism and related activities, but it is something that we should be brave enough to do.”


The internet is for ordinary people around the world, a communication device ,it is our liberty and we need to protect freedom.



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