Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Latest Lib Dem views on the interception of communications data

Earlier this evening I took part in a conference call about government plans for new communications monitoring powers with Julian Huppert MP and one of the party's Westminster advisers. Many thanks to the inestimable Helen Duffett for organising it.

In truth, I did not learn a lot more than was in Julian's excellent Liberal Democrat Voice article from this morning. But the tone was a lot less fraught than in the last such call, when the party's powers that be seemed intent on defending the Home Office position.

One thing I did learn is that a Home Office briefing on the proposed new bill is floating about on the internet - it is here on the DeHavilland site, for instance - but we were assured that things have moved on since it was written

How much has really changed remains to be seen, but it is encouraging to see reports like this one from today's Guardian:
The bill to track everyone's email, Facebook, text and internet use has proved to be one of the most controversial within the coalition and has been slow-streamed in the government's legislative timetable after last-minute coalition talks. 
The measure, criticised by civil liberty campaigners as a "snooper's charter", has been taken out of a more general Home Office- and Ministry of Justice-sponsored crime and courts bill, which ministers need to get on to the statute book as fast as possible. 
The decision to have a standalone bill follows Nick Clegg's insistence that it must be accompanied by the "strongest possible safeguards".
The most interesting point raised in the discussion was the extent to which we should value the opinions of the big internet companies. If they tell the Home Office that what is proposed is technically impossible that will aide the anti-snooping case. But they have their huge commercial interests will not necessarily support a libertarian position.

I was reminded of an observation by John Harris:
The computer industry came of age in the 1990s, that giddy phase of American and European history when authoritarianism was assumed to be on the wane. For sure, it's still nice to live in a liberal democracy, but given that the world has since moved in no end of sinister directions, isn't our unthinking embrace of the cloud ... an ill-advised throwback?

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