Snoopers' Charter 'goes too far' says retired Met assistant commish

Lib Dem peers plan serious opposition to bill in House of Lords

IPBill The Liberal Democrats are planning to meet the Investigatory Powers Bill with strong resistance in the House of Lords, a list of key issues shared with The Register reveals.

The bill, which will bolster state surveillance in the United Kingdom, remains especially unpopular amongst IT-literate members of the public, who are particularly aware of its potential to undermine security standards and civil liberties.

Encouraged by the Labour party's comments, many expected this would provoke stronger opposition from their elected representatives when it was debated in the House of Commons. Eventually it passed through that chamber by 444 votes to 69 on 7 June.

All eight Liberal Democrat MPs voted against the Snooper's Charter.

There are, however, 108 Lib Dem peers in the House of Lords, who, along with 173 crossbenchers and 210 Labour peers, the party is ready to campaign to demand heavy concessions from the 244 government peers.

Speaking to The Register, Brian Paddick, a Liberal Democrat peer and former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police said: “The experience with legislation is that is goes through the House of Commons very quickly and is only considered in detail in the House of Lords,” noting the Lords' 150 amendments to the Modern Slavery Act 2015 as an example of the upper chamber's capability to improve legislation.

There will be no immediate fireworks when the bill receives its second reading in the Lords on 27 June. As the first Monday after the EU referendum, which is likely to hold the public and media's focus, the second reading will be an especially “vague and general canter over the bill as a whole,” Paddick told us.

“People don't normally speak for over ten minutes, and a bill of this size and magnitude is hard to cover in 10 minutes,” he added, “so it will be a means of giving an indication to other peers of what our concerns will be.”

“We're keeping our powder dry for the committee stage,” Paddick added. This will take place two weeks after the second reading, and will consist of six days during which the Lords will consider the bill line by line.

“People are being hoodwinked by the government over issues like Internet Connection Records (ICRs),” he told us, explaining that “the argument is, and Dominic Grieve – who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee – said at a public meeting this week that ICRs were 'necessary for national security', but MI5 and MI6 have said they don't need them, only law enforcement does, so one has to question whether they are needed on national security grounds.”

The party believes that ICRs “are disproportionate and misguided,” its Lords briefing document states. “Despite amounting to “the collection of everyone in the United Kingdom’s web histories for 12 months by individual Communication Service Providers (CSPs)” the “significance of this data has been underplayed by government who have repeatedly tried to paint it as the equivalent of telephony records.”

“[Y]our web history reveals far more” than telephony records “and would be more akin to having a CCTV camera installed in your bedroom or a police officer following your every move,” opined the briefing document.

Speaking to The Register last year, IT legal specialist Graham Smith said that the realm of human activities which have become trackable has expanded considerably due to the internet: "We didn't read books over the telephone, but as an entirely accidental by-product of communications technology, our reading habits are now trackable.

The briefing note continued:

It is notable that those who have committed terrorist atrocities in the west recently have all been known to the security service and police prior to their attack. It has also been made clear that MI5 and MI6 already are able to access information similar to that delivered by ICRs via other means and therefore this new power is of limited interest to them.

Raising public awareness will be crucial to these attempts, and Paddick told us “there will be a concerted campaign by the Liberal Democrats, by Don't Spy On Us, to ensure the public understands” the issues at stake.

“We need to tell them in very clear and simple terms what impact the bill will have on their online activity,” with messages noting that if you've ever deleted your web history because it might be embarassing if people found out it will now no longer be possible to do this as your web history will be stored by the government.

“We're taking a pragmatic and reasonable approach,” to the most contentious issues, said the Liberal Democrats. These include full judicial authorisation for warrants, as opposed to the Home Secretary sighning off day-to-day police warrants.

The party also believes “that everyone is entitled to the protection of the law and that rights are meaningless unless they can be enforced. Yet at present, unlawful surveillance only comes to light as a result of a chance leak, whistleblowing or public interest litigation. It is impossible to challenge Government and state agents interference into your private life if you never know you’ve been a victim in the first place.”

We would suggest that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner postpone the notification if they assess that notification might defeat the purpose of an on-going serious crime, national security operation or investigation after consultation with the body who issued the warrant. This is not a heads-up for criminals as the Conservatives have tried to portray it, this is about allowing innocent people who have been surveilled without adequate evidence of suspicion a chance to seek remedy before our courts.

“I was Deputy Assistant Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police Service, I was the police spokesperson when the 7th July 2005 bombings happened, and I know at first hand what impact terrorism and serious crime can have on individuals,” said Paddick.

He concluded: “I am not approaching this from a one-sided idealistic libertarian standpoint, but this bill goes too far in trying to improve our security by disproportionately undermining our right to privacy.” ®

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