Monday, 2 April 2012

Lib Dem surveillance law briefing: first thoughts

Thanks to Charlotte Gore we can see the briefing paper on new surveillance laws to be introduced that has been sent by the Lib Dems, confirming they will be performing a u-turn on their "scale back intrusion on civil liberties" mantra and instead go ahead and put those liberties at risk.

It's dressed up in other weasel language, but it ultimately accepts that they are going to support a collection of the level of data on our lives that, if compared to actually tracing our every footstep and conversation in "the real world" would have people outraged.

What is sad is that the coalition government pledged:

The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour government and roll back state intrusion.

This is not rolling back state intrusion, the briefing itself shows it is INCREASING intrusion.

These changes have gradually eroded the range of communications data that was available to the police and the security services, and made it easier for criminals, terrorists and paedophiles to operate undetected.

The current proposals have one aim and one aim only: to maintain the capability of our law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute dangerous people.

If the current level of intrusion isn't good enough to maintain capability, then the only way that capability is maintained is to increase the levels of intrusion. Pretty basic maths!

Unfortunately the Lib Dems have decided that to fight this they will, as they have so predictably on most other issues, point the finger at Labour and hope that those like myself will be so blinded by rage filled memories of the injustices Labour carried out, or attempted to, that we'll look the other way while they sneak something they know we wouldn't really agree to if we had the option not to.

The trouble is that it's self defeating on this issue. My support for the Lib Dems grew precisely because I didn't want to see laws go anywhere near what Labour put through. I don't want a RIPA that allows "investigative forces" to work out exactly where I am without any real authorisation. I don't want a law that states my entire family's internet can be shut off without any proof of guilt of wrong doing. I don't think we should live in a country where it is a legislative possibility that a state body could be responsible for censoring the content anyone publishes online.

Yet the Lib Dems have done nothing so far to actually roll these issues back, and now here they are making it easier for the police to spy on us, and easier for our daily lives to be trawled through...yet they have the audacity to think we're stupid and small minded enough that some ire over a centralised database in the past is going to over-ride much deeper feelings of anxiety of a surveillance state?

Just on that point, by the way, fuck this idea that a non-centralised database (or sets of databases) is any better. Sony, the type of company that would fall in to this new legislation as a non-UK body that has UK users communicating through it's network, couldn't secure their databases from amateur hackers, and didn't have the decency to ensure that our very private and sensitive information was obscured just in case they did anyway. If the Lib Dems give a real shit about protecting our data they will not force our data to be collected, anywhere.

The briefing further condescends us with an annecdotal example of a case that is, as far as I can see, completely irrelevant to the issue of surveillance and mass data collection...

Is there an example of this data being used effectively to fight crime?

When Greater Manchester police arrested a man for raping a ten year old boy in June 2009 they seized his computer and phones which revealed that he was the ringleader of an international paedophile network that had been swapping indecent child images and videos. The phone and internet communications data gave police the vital information to identify the members of this group. GMP and 23 other police forces launched raids to arrest suspects as far afield as Ireland, Spain and Luxembourg. The ringleader received a minimum of 6 years imprisonment and an indeterminate life sentence for 23 charges including the rape. Seven British members of the network have been arrested and charged.

So a guy was arrested for a physical crime, and his property was rightfully searched to gain evidence against him. In this search they found data on his devices that contained information (most likely actual email communications not deleted, and phone records not expunged). At what point did mass data storage matter here, with clear evidential links of the trading and passage of illegal material from one person to another, not found by monitoring the guy for months at the behest of the Home Secretary, but by chance because they had a right to seize and investigate the material on the computer.

If the Lib Dems are being honest then what was sent via this ring could not have been known, since it is supposedly impossible for police to access the CONTENT (i.e. the indecent child images and videos), only who sent who an email, and where they were when they did so. Talk about blowing up your own argument one way or another.

In the end, by pointing out the very tiny differenced between what Labour wanted to do, and what the Lib Dems are now clearly pushing forward to do, they have scored the worst own goal...they've shown that on the only metric that anyone really thought that they were standing out as different, on individual liberty, they are actually the same as Labour and the Tories.

What is the point of the Lib Dems going forward?

For a more coherent view on where we're going, try this excellent blog article.