Coffee House

Communication problems: Back to drawing board for controversial snooping bill

11 December 2012

The joint committee examining the controversial draft Communications Data Bill has reported back, and it’s not good news. The report’s damning findings about the draft legislation from the Home Office has led Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to call for it to be redrafted, and a hostile Tory MP to describe the plans to monitor internet users’ activities as ‘on life support’. The committee said:

‘Our overall conclusion is that there is a case for legislation which will provide the law enforcement authorities with some further access to communications data, but that the current draft Bill is too sweeping, and goes further than it need or should.’

The report warns that ‘the draft bill pays insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy’, and that many of the provisions were set out in such a way that the public would be right to be alarmed. It said undertakings by officials in evidence sessions to the committee that the powers the bill afforded would not need to be exercised in full were insufficient, adding:

‘An undertaking, whether by officials or by ministers, that a power will be used only to a limited extent, is of little value. Once a power is on the statute book, it is available to be used, and also to be misused or abused, at any time in the future. It is hardly surprising that a proposal for powers of this width has caused public anxiety.’


So though there is a case for the Bill, the committee believes it needs re-drafting, and the new legislation should include up-to-date definitions of communications data, which the MPs and peers felt were absent from the current bill.

Nick Clegg agrees with the Committee, and is today calling for a re-write. He says:

‘Their report makes a number of serious criticisms – not least on scope; proportionality; cost; balances; and the need for much wider consultation. It is for those reasons that I believe the Coalition Government needs to have a fundamental rethink about this legislation.

‘We cannot proceed with this bill and we have to go back to the drawing board. We need to reflect properly on the criticisms that the Committee have made, while also consulting much more widely with business and other interested groups.’

Conservative MP Dominic Raab, who Coffee House reported over the weekend was pressing ministers for more details on the safeguards on internet users’ data, says the legislation needs major changes if it is to survive:

‘This report casts doubt on the security case for such sweeping surveillance powers, the impact on privacy, their workability, the cost and flawed consultation. It is difficult to see how Parliament could vote for the scheme. The proposals are on life support. They’ll need major surgery to pass in any shape or form.’

Theresa May still wants to push the legislation through, but she no longer has the support of the Lib Dems or Labour. Home Office ministers have put considerable effort into promoting the legislation, notably with May suggesting that anyone who opposed it needed to look the victims of serious crime in the eye and tell them why they didn’t want the Bill to go ahead. Then the Liberal Democrats and Conservative MP David Davis were irritated, pointing out that the case for the legislation was still being examined: today that case doesn’t look quite as easy to rest as the Home Secretary might have hoped.

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  • Peter Martin

    I wonder if “What are we going to do about..” Maria and the BBC feel about the state getting more powers to not be held to account?

  • Alex

    So who drafted a bill that took no account of people’s right to privacy?
    And have they been fired yet?
    And if not, why not?

  • kylix_is

    There is nothing we, the ordinary public, can do against this government’s desire, as with the previous Labour government, for a Big Brother state. Mrs May has already said this morning that the Bill will go ahead, and pooh-poohs any and all concerns voiced by Julian Huppert et al. I watched sessions of the Joint Committee on Parliament TV for hours and most of the witnesses (but not Keir Starmer, surprise surprise) were inferentially scathing about the inability of most committee members to understand even the basics of how the modern internet works. This Bill is resurrected from the New Labour era and is being largely driven by the Civil Service, for whom we do not and cannot vote. Face it, the government, if not this one, then the next, won’t be satisfied until we have mandatory telescreens in all rooms of our homes. And the reason? They fear insurrection by the discontented, even angry, general public, whose mood is becoming more disillusioned by the week as any signs of an economic upturn seem increasingly far away.

  • Richard Thomas

    It is an interesting example of the Home Office’s repressive double think. it wishes to extend its capacity for surveillance of e mail traffic but continues to abstain from the use of intercepted telephone calls in pursuing criminals because to do so presumably would expose the extent of its indulgence in snooping although this alone would result in a far greater capacity to arraign and convict the guilty. It does tend to justify the belief that the motivation for the Bill is for a snooper charter and perhaps the sooner the Home Office is renamed the Ministry of Repression the better it will be since its purpose in life to control and reduce liberty has never changed.

    • kylix_is

      I don’t believe the Home Office gives a flying fig over what moniker we place on it. Ministry of Repression, Ministry of Shoes, whatever. But if we ~are~ going to rename it, how about Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda? After all, the ruse worked for the Nazis for twelve years!

      • Thick as two Plancks

        They could even publish an in-house newspaper, the People’s Observer.

    • ButcombeMan


      The Home Office has done extensive tests on real live cases of using intercepts. The situation is not as clear cut as you imply. It is certainly not all a win

      In England & Wales the current disclosure rules make such use difficult because of real time and volume.

      The content meaning of intercepts, especially in translation/understanding of coded, foreign conversation, is almost impossible to prove, finally the disclosure of “what you know” has a damaging effect on future operations as not only “what you know” is exposed, “what you do not know” is exposed and unarrested targets whose trail you might be on, get warned and are able to take evasive actions

      Beware of listening to Shami. There are no simple answers.

  • anyfool

    Non of the safeguards proposed can overcome the absolute fact, you cannot trust any government, no matter how long laws are in place there always comes a time when for its own ends they will misuse the law, that is without the very dodgy interpretations the police use, see RIPA.
    That Blair’s trumpeted Northern Ireland peace plan is unravelling and governments flooding the country with terrorists and their tacit supporters shows that these type of laws are a fig leaf to cover their ineptitude after the event but you can bet your last penny they will be used against the law abiding as opposed to the real enemy.
    How long will it be before we become the real enemy.

    • kylix_is

      We ARE the real enemy already! The hoi polloi, the great unwashed, the common people, whom the government only sees as walking wallets from which vast amounts of tax are deducted to pay for all the governmental waste, largesse and empire-building.

  • WIlliam Blakes Ghost

    Surprise Surprise. The Home Office f*cks up again! Cameron is a fool to use May there.. She’s only good for holding the fort. She was never up to taking on the most dysfunctional and increasingly wrong-headed (in an authoritarian way) department of them all and their gold plated vanity projects.

    May is quickly becoming the Jacqui Smith of the Tory party…..

    • kylix_is

      Don’t forget previous office holders like David Blunkett and John Reid, authoritarians both.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Yes. Actually there is a very strong case for putting a champion of English freedom and privacy in the Home Office, to counter the authoritarian tendencies of its civil servants.

  • Tarka the Rotter

    Theresa May needs to look the citizens of this country in the eye and explain why she thinks it necessary to treat them all as potential criminals and terrorists and to spy upon their every move. I’m afraid ‘I am from the government and I am here to protect you’ doesn’t quite cut it, does it?

    • Thick as two Plancks

      “I am one of The People and you can trust me” is equally unconvincing.

  • Colonel Mustard

    It seems this Bill, like Cameron’s latest DNA whizz, was the re-heated idea of one Charles Farr, conceived rather boastfully as “Mastering the Internet”, and originally served up under New Labour. Coincidentally Mr Farr is the partner of Theresa May’s SPAD Fiona Cunningham. Once again it seems the real story is the network of unelected influence. May has made herself look foolish championing this resurrected New Labour project but no wonder the resident troll thinks so much of it.

    The UK appears to be going the way of Russia as the strands of surveillance and control are slowly threaded together:-

    Do we really want to live in a country where the likes of telemachus, champion of “trumped up charges” for political parties he disagrees with, decide who is an “extremist”?

    • TomTom

      Time to move to fully encrypted tunnels. Life can become very difficult for these clowns if they play this game and they can only tap communications so long as Washington pays for GCHQ and Menwith Hill because Britain does not have the funds or the resources. It is simply a wrapper for the NSA in the US

      • telemachus

        Do not underestimate or belittle Charles Farr. He is the author of The Prevent strategy, launched in 2007, which seeks to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. It is the preventative strand of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST.

        The current threat level to the UK from international terrorism is severe. The most significant international terrorism threat to the UK remains violent extremism associated with and influenced by Al Qaeda.

        The Prevent strategy has now been re-focused. It is guided by a number of key principles:

        Prevent will remain an integral part of the government’s counter-terrorism
        strategy, CONTEST.

        Prevent will address all forms of terrorism, including the extreme right wing, although currently, the greatest threat comes from Al Qa’ida, its affiliates and like-minded groups.

        Prevent will tackle non-violent extremism where it creates an environment
        conducive to terrorism and popularises ideas that are espoused by terrorist

        Public money will not be provided to extremist organisations who do
        not support the values of democracy, human rights, the rule of law and mutual respect and tolerance of different faith groups.

        Objectives of the new Prevent strategy:-

        The strategy now contains three objectives, these are to:

        Respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat from those who promote it

        Prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and ensure that they are given appropriate advice and support

        Work with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation that we need to address

        • Colonel Mustard

          Go away you tiresome troll. Someone certainly needs to address the radicalism and extremism you constantly champion here, such as “trumped up charges” to destroy legitimate political parties. The above cut and paste job is just more sloganeering. It means nothing beyond its aspirational words and is full of contradictions.

          • telemachus

            I remain astonished that those who purport to think and analyse do not wish to do everything in their power to protect their Kith and Kin

            • Colonel Mustard

              Don’t be. This won’t protect them. As you would understand if you had bothered to read any articles on the subject rather than choosing to believe and parrot the silly emotive blackmail being used to intimidate dissent. You really think sophisticated criminal organisations will just give up rather than engage in a battle of escalating and alternative methodologies? Meanwhile the vast majority of law-abiding citizens is spied on for all sorts of bureaucratic reasons.

              You read nothing, you absorb nothing, you deploy no critical faculties. You are the perfect, Labour-voting useful idiot who can be relied upon to parrot the party line regardless of the facts. Frankly the fact that people like you get to vote astonishes me.

              • telemachus

                So what do you want to do
                Lie down and let Al Qaeda run rings
                This is war and freedom is a casualty in war

                • Colonel Mustard

                  What do I want to do? I want to stop visiting this site so I never have to see your serial trolling again.

                  War? This is not war. If only it were. The situation is what it is because of politicians weakness, treachery and appeasement. Now their secret policemen want to spy on their own citizens.

              • ButcombeMan

                “You read nothing, you absorb nothing, you deploy no critical faculties”.

                In respect of this bill -Mustard, you are quilty of exactly what you accuse our resident troll.

                Isabel Hardman is not much better, she slips into the memes (“snoopers bill”) of the unthinking press. Why? Can we have grown up comment Isabel? Please stop descending to the level of the gutter press.

                The subject is worth serious discussion, not dismissal out of hand of views/concerns like yours- OR those of Charles Farr, who correctly has identified and tried to solve, imperfectly maybe, a real problem.

                There IS difficulty and it is getting worse, it imperils our society. Head in the sand rhetoric like yours is just silly.

                We can have some fun over all sorts of not so serious subjects here but the opening intelligence gap is getting very large and as a nation we will struggle.

                Whichever government was in charge this issue would be on the agenda. In fact give Labour’s nonsense over 90 days they might have tried to go much further

                • telemachus

                  If May fails, we will drive this through

                • Colonel Mustard

                  Colonel or Sir to you. And I’d rather face the risks than see every British citizen treated as a suspect, thanks. That is just my opinion. But you are in good company with the troll telemachus on this. Look at his comments below and feel proud.

        • dalai guevara

          So UKIP is stuffed then?

    • Thick as two Plancks

      Yes, the piece in The Register was interesting reading, but its author was that well-known thorn-in-side-of-the-establishment, Duncan Campbell. So one seeks further sources.

  • telemachus

    So paedophiles and terrorists breathe again

    • James Strong

      Here we go again, telemachus. As pointed out by someone a couple of days ago you are the commenter who says ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ but won’t use your real name here.
      This bill is *not* about paedophiles and terrorists; that’s an excuse, a cover, an easy red-top emotional appeal for the hard of thinking.

      Let’s look at a couple of sentences from the report, quoted above-

      ‘An undertaking, whether by officials or ministers, that a power will be used only to a limited extent, is of little value.Once a power is on the statute book, it is available to be used, and also to be misused or abused, at any time in the future.’

      What part of that do you think is wrong?

      I think that, if these powers were brought in under cover of ‘protecting’ us from ‘paedophiles and terrorists’ then they would pretty soon be used against dissidents, and shortly after that against anyone speaking against the current approved wisdom.

      Within months the private discussions of groups opposed to gay marriage, or those denying man-made global warming, or planning a huge publicity campaign about corruption in Brussels, or organising old-style fox hunts would be monitored. The list is open-ended because we don’t know what will be the approved wisdom in future times. But we do know that we can never believe that governments and police will choose to limit the use of powers available to them.

      • TomTom

        Actually it won’t be long before the wheel turns. Europe is heading back inti its past. I don’t think it is opponents of gay marriage that need be alarmed….. Remember Mao’s dictum “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom” in 1956 so he could arrest them all and liquidate them ? I suspect some people are going to be a bit put out when they find how much rope they have been given to hang themselves…….so James Strong, I nsuspect you might be surprised to see how these powers are used…..not quite as you think

    • Tarka the Rotter

      No, decent law abiding people breathe again, until the next assault on their liberty and freedom…

    • Mimbly

      Why should we all be snooped on, millions of us because of a few bad apples? let’s use the old fashioned way called the police force

    • TomTom

      I can hear you Tel-Boy……your hard drive must be full by now

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