Julian Huppert writes to Theresa May over Snoopers’ Charter allegation: “I would expect you to issue a public correction and an apology at the earliest opportunity”

by Stephen Tall on September 30, 2014

Julian Huppert MPRemember when the Tories were, briefly, a party which stuck up for individuals’ privacy? It happened, honestly – when they were in opposition. But now, in government, home secretary Theresa May is happy to push the traditional authoritarian measures beloved by Tories and Labour alike.

And so it was, again, today that she pushed forward the Snoopers’ Charter (aka the little-loved Data Communications Bill), noting, accurately, that it would already be law if it weren’t for those pesky Lib Dems. Fair enough: it’s an honest argument. Lib Dems believe in civil liberties, Tories tend not to.

But Theresa May went well beyond honest debate, alleging that Lib Dem opposition to the state’s right to track your every internet move was a direct threat to children’s lives. Hold on a moment, points out Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesman Julian Huppert in a letter to Mrs May published this evening (see below), that’s just not true and you owe the party an apology.

We won’t get one, of course – Theresa won’t get to be Tory leader by owning up to the truth that it’s her own inertia which is the real problem.

Dear Theresa,

We disagree on the Communications Data Bill.

The Liberal Democrat position is clear: we do not think that the proposal to store a record of every citizen’s internet browsing for 12 months is compatible with our basic civil liberties. We also do not think it is right to force UK companies to keep track of everything people do on Google, Facebook or other websites. You appear determined to push ahead with the scheme at all costs, regardless of widespread public concern. I’m more than happy to continue to have that debate as we approach the general election.

But there are limits. I was utterly dismayed by the suggestion in your conference speech today that my party has put children’s lives at risk.

That is an extraordinary claim, and one which must be backed with compelling evidence. Instead, you cited figures from the National Crime Agency which were entirely misleading. You said:

“Over a six-month period, the National Crime Agency estimates that it had to drop at least twenty cases as a result of missing communications data. Thirteen of these were threat-to-life cases, in which a child was judged to be at risk of imminent harm […] The solution to this crisis of national security was the Communications Data Bill. But two years ago, it was torpedoed by the Liberal Democrats.”

The National Crime Agency cases you cite were, I understand, unable to proceed because it was not possible to connect the IP address used for the communication to a particular device. ‘IP matching’ is a genuine problem, and as you know, Liberal Democrats have supported and continue to support action to solve it. Following our vetoing of the Communications Data Bill, we supported including proposals to resolve this problem in the Queen’s Speech.

Since then, nothing has happened. No such proposals have been brought forward by your department.

Responsibility for the lack of data in the cases you cite, and the risk thereby caused to individuals, including children, therefore lies exclusively at your door. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the Liberal Democrats.

I realise that your conference speeches are not subject to the same levels of accuracy as statements in the House of Commons, but nonetheless I would expect you to issue a public correction and an apology at the earliest opportunity.

Yours,

Julian

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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