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Thursday, June 09, 2016

Illiberal Labour capitulate on the snoopers' charter

With the news agenda dominated by the European Referendum it is a good time for the two main parties to collaborate and pass illiberal laws in the hope that people do not notice. Alas that is what appears to have happened with regards to the draft Investigatory Powers Bill or snoopers' charter as it is more popularly known.

As the Telegraph reports on Tuesday evening, 444 MPs voted in favour of the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, which would ostensibly give the government bulk powers to collect citizens’ web records, as well remote hacking and monitoring of smartphones, and to potentially read unencrypted communications.

Just 69 members of the SNP, Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party opposed the proposed law, which will now proceed to the House of Lords for debate. Labour MPs capitulated in their opposition to this bill and voted with the Government. Their poor record on civil liberties continuing into opposition. The Telegraph sets out what the draft bill seeks to do:

The Bill’s most significant provisions include obliging internet and phone companies to store records of websites visited for 12 months; enabling the security services and police to intercept and track electronic communications and mount IT attacks (known as equipment interference) under a warrant authorised by the Home Secretary and an independent judge; and empowering our services to access and analyse bulk data.

In other words, records of your internet history (what websites you've visited, when and how often) as well as metadata about your phone calls such as who you call, can all be collected. Your computer or phone could also be hacked in special circumstances to eavesdrop on conversations.

The bill allows bulk collection and retention of phone calls, messages and emails and internet browsing history, you don't have to be a suspect to be monitored.

This broad range of powers has been one of the main objections to the Bill, because it means every citizen, whether you are having legally privileged conversations, or are part of special groups like journalists or Members of Parliament are subject to being monitored and having your data stored.

Dozens of public organisations and departments will be able to access communication information, some without a warrant. These range from police forces, HMRC, customs officials and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to an assortment of unrelated government departments such as the NHS, Food Standards Agency and local councils. At one point, the Milk Marketing Board was on this list, although it has since been removed.

The main objections to the Bill in its current form are to do with the "bulk" powers of data collection and retention. This means the government can look at your internet history (all the websites you've visited in the last year, for instance) or look at your phone metadata - whom you've called, when and how many times - indiscriminately. The MPs who objected believe surveillance should be targeted rather than indiscriminate.

Those opposed to the bill argue that in order to protect civil liberties, surveillance should be targeted, with warrants from courts that ensure they are focused, specific and based on reasonable suspicion.

This was the bill that was blocked by the Liberal Democrats when we were in coalition government. Now that they are unfettered the Tories have brought it back with a vengeance and have done so with the assistance of the Labour Party.
Plaid and SDLP also opposed why not credit them
I just reported what was in the newspaper
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