Given Dianne Abbott’s appointment as Shadow Home Secretary I feel there is an opportunity to change and challenge Labour’s position of abstention on the Regulatory Powers Bill. There is some urgency to this as today is the last day in which Peers can place amendments to the 3rd Reading.

The arguments in favour of passing the RPB is that the current surveillance laws are inappropriate for today’s technology and the current regulatory regime is insufficiently powerful. The arguments against are that the legalisation of past illegal practice and the authorisation of new powers are a massive breach of the rights to justice and privacy, there is zero proportionality and the proposals are of unknown effectiveness.

In my blog article, Labour’s front bench and surveillance, written in March, I quote Kier Starmer, the previous front bench spokesman in saying the Bill was not fit for purpose, and I argue that the concessions obtained from the Government do not make it so. The article also reviews the original provisions of the Bill and summarises the positions of the three key campaigning opponents, Liberty, Dontspyonus coalition and the Open Rights Group.

The RPB still authorises bulk surveillance, hacking and data profiling. The process by which warrants are obtained remains insufficiently independent; the judicial oversight provisions are unclear but it is essential that judges supervise the reasonableness of the politician’s warrants. The concession that the intelligence services may no longer act to defend the economic security of the nation is nullified by permission to undertake data profiling and frankly they’ll find other grounds for continuing to spy on trade union, political and environmental activists.

The heart of the what Labour should be saying is that the law needs to be based on the principle that we’re citizens not suspects and that the intelligence agencies and the police should not be snooping on people for whom they have no legitimate interest and no independent warrant.

At the beginning of the process,  the most worrying new capabilities, were seen as,

  1. Aggressive Hacking, otherwise illegal
  2. Bulk Interception, otherwise illegal
  3. Bulk generation of personal data sets, doesn’t work if probable cause required
  4. & communication acquisitions, also designed to work without being constrained to need proof of probable cause

Three Parliamentary reports have stated that the need for these powers is unproven, and some evidence been submitted that the ability to collect data is greater than the ability to analyse it and intelligence is thus weakened making us less safe and not more.

The history of the intelligence services is that they spend too much money and time interfering with citizens political activism and not enough on the purposes for which they were established. These powers give them more toys to continue to spy on left wing, trade union and environmental campaigners; you made the point yourself that black and minority ethnic communities and activists will also come under disproportionate

We should note that the campaigning organisations have given up on defeating the law due to Labour’s year long-held and shameful position of abstention.

What the previous front bench won from the Government isn’t enough, you should instruct the Lords whips to oppose the 3rd Reading and then oppose it should it return to the Commons.


See also

Image Credit: Victoria Pickering @flickr CC 2013 BY-NC-ND cropped, cropping is not a derived work.

Last Chance
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