Labour's 'Big, Mad Database' – something practical you can do to stop it

by Stephen Tall on April 28, 2009

Over at the Telegraph, Ian Douglas has an important post highlighting quite how sweeping, extensive and intrusive is the Labour Government’s new consultation document, Protecting the Public in a Changing Communications Environment.

(Dontcha just love the title, by the way? Bless that nice smiley Mr Brown for recognising how threatened I feel by recent technological changes, and how grateful I will be when it’s all monitored oh-so-efficiently by his hyper-competent government.)

Ian’s article is a useful synopsis of the key issues (as is Helen Duffett’s article published on LDV earlier today). First, here’s what the Government proposes:

to make all communication network owners keep records of every message we send, phone call we make, website we visit for twelve months and allow access to those records for a range of public authorities including local councils and the Inland Revenue as well as the police.

Here’s why the Government is doing it:

People might speak on landline or mobile phones, using Voice over Internet Protocol such as Skype, communicate using email, instant messaging, message boards, chat facilities provided by online games or social networking sites. To be able to protect the general population from crime and terrorism various Government agencies need to be able to access these communications or they risk becoming ineffective.

Sound reasonable? After all, surely even we liberals must realise that cramping Bin Laden’s style is worth a bit of intrusion into individuals’ instant-messaging?

Trouble is, what’s proposed goes well beyond counter-terrorism and serious crime prevention. Here’s what Labour wants to see happen:

access [to network owners’ records] will be allowed to designated agencies when it is necessary and proportionate for a particular investigation, in the interests of national security, to prevent crime or disorder, in the interests of the economic well-being of the UK, in the interests of public safety (this list is getting rather long), to protect public health, to collect tax, to prevent death or injury in an emergency, to assist in investigations in alleged miscarriages of justice, to identify people who have died and obtain information about their next of kin.

Which covers just about every eventuality possible. Just as it was designed to do.

But surely there will be safeguards, you say; surely no government would allow such invasion of privacy without strict safeguards over who can access it?

No warrant is required, and approval by the secretary of state is only needed for retrieving the content of the communication, not what the Home Office have been calling ‘communication data,’ which is to say data about the communication such as the phone number called, the address of the website visited, the email address a message was sent to and the time and place it was made. Everything but the message itself. Whether or not the inquiry is warranted is decided by a senior officer within the investigating body, with no reference to external regulators needed on individual cases. The process as a whole would be regulated by the Interception of Communications Commissioner. At the moment that’s Sir Paul Kennedy, a former High Court Judge.

Annoyed yet? Appalled by Labour’s complete failure to understand that the state should have limits, that individuals have a right to privacy, and that we should be able to communicate with whom we wish, however we wish within the law, without fear that it will be intercepted by government agencies? Wish there were something you could do to tell Labour where to stick its snooping bill?

Our freedom is under attack once more, and this is your chance to object. Read the document, answer the questions and email Nigel Burrowes at communicationsdataconsultation@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk, or write to your MP. Do it now.

Quite.

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Another practical step to stop the Database State is to join NO2ID – http://www.no2id.net/getInvolved/join – or support a nearby local group – http://www.no2id.net/localgroups/

Lib Dems may pay lip service to civil liberties, but NO2ID groups around the country are out pounding the pavements every week, informing the public about the costs, risks and dangers of the Database State – check the newsletter archive at http://www.no2id.net/news/newsletters/

by Dave Page on April 28, 2009 at 7:54 pm. Reply #

Well Mark, perhaps Dave is remembering how your party helped to prop up the last useless Labour Government.

I hear that the LibDems have yet to rule out allying themselves to a completely corrupt Labour Party this time round either, in the event of a hung parliament.

I would suggest that comes under the category of “Lip Service”.

What would you call it Mark?

by Silent Hunter on April 28, 2009 at 8:55 pm. Reply #

Dave Page is very misguided if he seeks to alienate Lib Dem supporters from No2ID. I was involved in my local branch of No2ID, and creating a non-partisan coalition is crucial to forming local momentum. We had Greens, Lib Dems, UKIP, Tory and former Labour activists cooperating.

On SilentHunter’s point, the Lib Dems are an independent force in British politics. I would be dismayed if we formed a coalition with either Labour or the Tories, but you can bet your bottom dollar the Lib Dems would make civil liberties issues one of their demands for any coalition.

It defies belief to suggest that civil liberties won’t be better protected with more Lib Dem MPs keeping Labour and the Tories honest.

by Richard Huzzey on April 28, 2009 at 10:24 pm. Reply #

I’m not trying to alienate Lib Dems from NO2ID. Quite the opposite – part of the reason I joined the Liberal Democrats is because of their stance in Westminster on civil liberties issues.

I’m just disappointed that I haven’t seen much action from the party as a whole on the issue; while there are many people like myself who support both the Liberal Democrats and NO2ID, there are many Lib Dems who support the National Identity Register and the Database State, and I’m being told by Lib Dem-run councils that it’s “not an important issue”. I know from my experience of standing as a Liberal Democrat council candidate that following the party line on this issue is not a requirement for candidacy.

It makes me wonder what it means when our MPs say that the Liberal Democrat party opposes ID cards – do they merely mean the majority of our MPs?

by Dave Page on April 28, 2009 at 10:33 pm. Reply #

Dave — Well, I can sympathise completely with your anger if any Lib Dem councils suggest it’s not important. You have my full apology for misunderstanding your point. As I’m sure we agree, it is crucial for councils not to comply with the ID cards scheme if non-compliance is to be viable.

While civil liberties may not seem a ‘bread and butter’ issue on the doorstep, we should be campaigning on such issues in Focuses. The Liberal Democrats should never be ashamed to be ‘signpost’ politicians rather than ‘weather vane’ politicians… as Vince’s long-standing criticism of Brown’s economics shows.

by Richard Huzzey on April 28, 2009 at 11:09 pm. Reply #

P.S: As for Lib Dem MPs… Obviously some members do break whips or vote against party policy, but I think civil liberties issues are a good example of unanimity amongst our parliamentary party. Certainly far more than amongst Tories or Labour MPs!

by Richard Huzzey on April 28, 2009 at 11:11 pm. Reply #

An alternative way of joining in the discussion and debate around the consultation is to post a comment to the republished version of the consultation on WriteToReply:
http://writetoreply.org/communicationsdata/

Alternatively, if you link back to appropriate sections of the report on WriteToReply (each section, subsection and paragraph has its own unique URI) form your own blog posts, we should be able to trackback and aggregate your comments on the site itself.

by Tony Hirst on April 29, 2009 at 12:40 am. Reply #

>While civil liberties may not seem a ‘bread and butter’ issue on the doorstep, we should be campaigning on such issues in Focuses.

I think that may happen as more and more people come into contact with setups such as “terrorist” laws and the safeguarding databases.

by Matt Wardman on April 29, 2009 at 5:53 am. Reply #

Well, Mark, I’ve seen many local leaflets which didn’t raise the issue, at both regional and federal conferences. I’ve already said that I’m happy with the work that many MPs are doing.

I’m not sure why when my anecdotal evidence is compared to your anecdotal evidence, you consider mine to be “exceptions” to your “rule” rather than the other way round.

by Dave Page on May 4, 2009 at 12:01 pm. Reply #

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