December 3, 2013
Posted in CCDP, Civil Liberties, Communications Data Bill, Databases, Freedom of Expression, Internet freedom, Mastering the Internet, Online privacy, PRISM, Privacy, Surveillance, Terrorism Legislation, United States
Today, the editor of the Guardian gives evidence to the Home Affairs select committee, as part of the committee’s work on counter terrorism.
Perhaps that might give the committee to question why Parliament learned of much of GCHQ’s activity from the newspaper, rather than from Ministers. Indeed, it seems on current evidence that will remain the case – as the Lords found on the 20th November, when they were told they could not even be informed which law authorised Project Tempora.
Lord Richard: My Lords, of course the Minister cannot go into details on these very sensitive matters. We all accept that. However, for the life of me, I do not see why she cannot answer a straightforward Question about which Minister authorised the project and why the existence of the project was not disclosed to the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill. These are not sensitive issues. They are pure matters of fact, surely capable of being answered.
Baroness Warsi: It is interesting that the noble Lord interprets it in that way but I think he would also accept that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on intelligence matters, which includes any comments on the project.
We have been repeatedly assured that it would be unacceptable for a central database of communications to be built – both by those in Government and those seeking to be.
We have previously warned that everyone from Christian street preachers to peaceful protesters will be subject to new draconian powers proposed by the Home Office which mean that individuals that are considered annoying can be driven from the streets. That is why we are very happy to support the newly formed Reform Clause 1 campaign which was launched in Parliament yesterday.
The campaign warns that the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill will have a “chilling effect on free speech and expression”. We very much hope that this campaign will have the same amount of campaign success as the Reform Section 5 campaign that we backed earlier in the year.
At present Antisocial Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) can only be issued if a court is fully satisfied that someone has caused or threatened to cause “harassment, alarm or distress” to someone else and the order is therefore “necessary” to protect the victim. Under the new Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNA system), the courts will be able to impose sweeping curbs on people’s freedoms if they believe an individual is “capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person”.
Speaking at the Internet Service Providers Association, Security Minister James Brokenshire said that an announcement on blocking extremist websites is ‘forthcoming.’
This follows the Prime Minister telling Parliament on October 23 that: “We have had repeated meetings of the extremism task force — it met again yesterday — setting out a whole series of steps that we will take to counter the extremist narrative, including by blocking online sites.”
Such an announcement has not been preceded by a public consultation, or any engagement with civil liberties and freedom of speech organisations. The threat the freedom of speech is only too clear.
Part 2 of the Lobbying Bill is a significant change and proposes regulating a broad swathe of those most active in public debate. It poses a major threat to freedom of speech and public debate, and must be considered in the most delicate manner. It has already achieved unprecedented cross-party, non-partisan agreement in opposition to its current drafting.
Part 2 of the Bill should be withdrawn and a process undertaken to produce clear, viable legislation that does not pose a major risk to freedom of speech and legitimate public debate. While safeguards for charities are welcome, wide range of organisations that make important contributions to public debate are not charities.
If it the Government has been unable to produce coherent legislation by the second reading, let alone beyond it, then it cannot be prudent for Parliament to attempt to re-draft an entire section of legislation during its passage through Parliament.
This is a guest post from Neil Wallis, a former editor of the News of the World. He is a Fleet Street veteran for 35 years, former editor of The People, former deputy editor of both The Sun and the News of the World, and gave evidence twice at the Leveson Inquiry. He was arrested at 6am on 14 July 2011 as part of the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Weeting but cleared in February 2013.
On 25th May, 2012, a Metropolitan Police sergeant stared me coldly in the eye and told me he planned to charge me with serious corporate crime.
It was 10 months since I had been arrested in a 5.30am dawn raid at my West London crime den by officers from the Met’s Operation Weeting squad investigating allegations of conspiracy to hack telephones by the News of the World.
That day – only my second interview since I’d been marched off to a prison cell back on 14th July 2011 – he threatened these alleged new offenses by explaining that, as a former Deputy Editor of the newspaper I was a very senior company executive with corporate responsibilities.
In the latest development of over-zealous internet filtering, the British Library has blocked access to Shakespeare’s Hamlet because of its “violent content”.
The block was discovered by author Mark Forsyth, who attempted to check a line from the play over the library’s wi-fi network.
We have repeatedly warned that there is a fundamental issue with filtering legal content based on a subjective moral view, often made by a third party and not the person operating the network. Does the British Library really think that the content of Hamlet is so violent to justify access being blocked to one of the most famous plays of all time?
When parents worry about what their children might see over public wi-fi, does the British library think that the most pressing issue is if they are reading English literature?
In light of recent debate about Twitter and trolling, the US State Department issued a rather timely statement:
“We believe that when public speech is deemed offensive, be it via social media or any other means, the issue is best addressed through open dialogue and honest debate.”
Those calling for prosecutions, users to be banned and active policing of what is and is not acceptable on Twitter should tread very carefully.
The statement was issued when one Government decided that a social networking site dedicated to discussing the role of religion in the country was offensive, and the person who organised the site was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes.
That Government was Saudi Arabia and if the West is to stand up for freedom of speech abroad, we need to remember that those same values – however uncomfortable they may be sometimes – must not be forgotten at home.
Recent alarming revelations have raised some incredibly important questions about the use of surveillance techniques and Big Brother Watch, alongside seven other foremost campaign croups, have called on MPs to begin an enquiry into exactly how ministers and the security agencies have been interpreting the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), as reported in today’s Guardian.
After CIA officer Edward Snowdon revealed documents which showed that GCHQ has used advanced technology to access hundreds of millions of private telecommunications messages, including phone calls, emails and records of internet usage, questions have been rightly asked about the extent of GCHQ’s operations and their legality. The key programme goes by the name of Operation Tempora and it is argued that the gathering of the messages is completely legal because the traffic has left the UK and therefore becomes “external”. In our letter to the Home Affairs Select Committee, we argue that the advanced pace of technology has exposed the inadequate oversight of the surveillance agencies, while legal definitions written for landline telephones are now being used on fibre-optic internet connections.