Now I’m at a computer, here’s a longer post on my thoughts on the governments communications data intercept ‘proposals’

We don’t yet know the full proposals…

… but we do know the proposals are not as leaked, whilst the LD briefing which has been circulated does not outline what the full proposals are it does make clear that the proposals do not amount to new snooping powers but an extension to what communications will be applicable for observation under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA)

This is positive, an extension of access to content, for instance, as the initial reports suggested would be so utterly toxic it would break the Coalition. As it is an extension to what RIPA applies to is less dramatic, even if unsavoury.

This is yet another failure of communication from the government

This has obviously been leaked for one of two reasons, either it was leaked by someone to rile up Lib Dem and Libertarian activists (In which case, congratulations, it worked) or it was leaked on a Sunday to try and limit scrutiny/coverage (In which case you failed, epically)

Either way it is clear this was not expected by the government and the resulting vacuum of comment, followed by rushed briefings suggests the governments been blindsided.

This really isn’t a good thing, first there was confusion, then anger, now angry confusion. Leaking during recess also means that the commetariat are not in Westminster, briefing won’t be effective and the government will have trouble getting people on TV.

A lack of message control is becoming terminal for the coalition….

The coalition should be entrenching and extending Privacy safeguards….

… Not merely keeping them the same. RIPA might have been in place for 12 years but there are major problems with it. Oversight is not exactly substantial and instead of data being accessed in major criminal enquires we’ve had plenty of cases of councils using the law to monitor such heinous crimes as not sorting the recycling properly.

If there was one thing on which the coalition parties were of one voice before the 2010 elections, it was their distain at Labours, at best, casual regard, toward civil liberties and privacy. The coalition should be announcing new safeguards in addition to those already in place.

The law at present allows the home secretary to issue a warrant under the act, but beyond an Interception of Communications Commissioner and the Information Commissioners Office there is no judicial oversight. In the same way as TPIM’s need a court order in a addition to a warrant from the Home Secretary, so too should access to data interception, and especially content.

There is a case for intercepting some communications

Yes, intercepting data to compile evidence and disrupt networks is sometimes necessary and in the public interest, especially in cases of international serious organised crime, terrorism, people trafficking and child abuse and we do need to safeguard, disrupt and monitor such activity but this is at odds with keeping everyone’s communications stored, centralised database or not.

Phone tapping, website monitoring and data interception should be intelligence led, not generalised.

What needs to happen now

The government must provide clarity as soon as possible and instead of moving straight to legislation, should go to the public for a consultation and explain the case.

In any case, Labour went too far in backing state intrusion to the detriment of privacy and civil liberties, the government needs to make clear what it will do to extend safeguards.

Ensuring judicial oversight, limiting access to content and making it clear that only the most serious cases, named and outlined as endangering public safety, serious abuse or risk to individual life,  will be subject to interception, would both be very welcome.

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