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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Ruling allows GCHQ to spy on MPs

Today's Telegraph contains details of a rather disturbing ruling by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal that MPs do not have special protection from having their communications monitored by Britain’s spy agencies.

A challenge by Green MP Caroline Lucas sought to establish that the so-called Wilson Doctrine, designed to stop intelligence agencies tapping MPs, is enforceable in law. However, the tribunal ruled that it has no legal basis.

As the Telegraph outlines, the Wilson Doctrine was introduced in 1966 under Harold Wilson, the then Labour prime minister, to ban the tapping of MPs' and peers' phones and was later extended to cover emails.

The tribunal panel, headed by Mr Justice Burton, also ruled the doctrine only applies to targeted, and not incidental, interception of Parliamentary communications. And it does not apply to members of devolved assemblies or MEPs.

On this issue I agree with Caroline Lucas. She said: "This judgment is a body blow for parliamentary democracy. My constituents have a right to know that their communications with me aren't subject to blanket surveillance – yet this ruling suggests that they have no such protection.

"Parliamentarians must be a trusted source for whistle blowers and those wishing to challenge the actions of the Government. That's why forthcoming legislation on surveillance must include a provision to protect the communications of MPs, peers, MSPs, AMs and MEPS from extrajudicial spying."

Ms Lucas also criticised the Prime Minister for being "deliberately ambiguous" on the Wilson doctrine – noting that his own Government ministers have stated as recently as earlier this week that protection from blanket surveillance does still apply to parliamentarians.

If the executive is to be properly scrutinised and the rights of constituents protected then Parliamentarians should have a right to be protected from surveillance. The UK Government really needs to look at legislating as soon as possible.
Speaker Bercow stretched his objectivity as far as it would go in the Commons yesterday - there is no doubt what his feelings are - but Leader of the House Grayling prevaricated in Business Questions today.
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