Web snooping plans: where do Libdems stand?


by Sunny Hundal    
10:40 am - April 11th 2012

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Yesterday a bit of a war of words broke out between the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister over the government’s proposed snooping plans.

Cameron said:

You’ve got to remember that this was a national security council where sitting round the table was Chris Huhne, Nick Clegg, Ken Clarke – people from impeccable civil libertarian backgrounds.

Clegg hit back:

The deputy prime minister agreed at the NSC that the government would look at proposals to address the police’s technological gap to deal with serious criminals and terrorists. But he also made clear that they could only proceed if they took into account and protected civil liberties.

This war of words came about because Libdem chair Tim Farron said the day before that Libdems would kill any web monitoring plans.

I don’t doubt that Libdems cherish civil liberties and are worried about these plans. But they will be screwed over this anyway.

The clue lies in the letter that Theresa May and Ken Clarke sent out to Tory MPs.

The letter said:

We therefore propose to require internet companies to collect and store certain additional information, like who an individual has contacted and when, which they may not collect at present. The information will show the context – but not the content – of communications. So we will have for internet-based communications what we already have for mobile and landline telephone calls.

And how is it different to what Labour proposed?

One: data will not be held in one big database but lots of company-owned databases the government will pay for.

Two: the police and Security Service will be able to access the data only when “necessary and proportionate”. Three: access will be overseen by the Interception of Communications Commissioner.

And, err, that’s it. Those are the key differences to what Labour proposed. [Just to clarify: I opposed Labour's plans then and would oppose this even if Labour proposed it now.]

We know the Coalitionb will go ahead with these snooping plans anyway; they’ve made that clear and Clegg has not ruled this out. He was there when it was agreed.

The question for Nick Clegg, Tim Farron and other Libdems is this: what are their red lines? What part of that letter do Clegg or tim Farron disagree with? Without answering these questions their statements amount to posturing.

And if Libdem grassroots let them get away with this, the party will have pissed off about the only constituency still with them.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


“And how is it different to what Labour proposed?

One: data will not be held in one big database but lots of company-owned databases the government will pay for.”

If I remember correctly, that change to the plans occurred under Labour, before they shelved the plans. It’s not a change introduced by or under the coalition.

Furthermore, a distributed database, consisting of many databases, is still itself a database. Depending on how these databases are implemented, and how GCHQ, etc, can access them, this part of the plan could be little different, in practice, to the earlier idea of having a single, directly state-run database.

“Two: the police and Security Service will be able to access the data only when “necessary and proportionate”.”

And what do they consider to be “necessary” and “proportionate”? It’s a reassurance that’s pretty much meaningless and useless. The question is not whether or not the state would consider such measures “necessary and proportionate”, but what the state considers necessity and proportionality to be in the first place. This empty reassurance sounds, to me, very much like the empty reassurances Labour were giving.

“The information will show the context – but not the content – of communications.”

I’m taking that to mean that it will be what they often call “communications data” – the who, when, where of communications – that will be logged, not the “communications content”. I remember the same being said under Labour. Again, this is the same as under Labour.

So far, this all sounds very much like what Labour were proposing, despite Clegg’s and Cameron’s claims that it’s all very different. The few, claimed differences may well be differences with what was being considered back in, say, 2006, but they don’t seem to be differences with the plans that were shelved in 2009. It does seem that the plans the Lib Dems and Conservatives opposed when in opposition are very much the same plans they’re supporting, or at least accepting, when in government.

The lib Dems no longer exist. It is The Nick Clegg party. And will remain so until he is removed.

The roll of the Metropolitan police, national newspaper groups, should be licking their lips at the money to be made selling this information.

We know the Coalitionb will go ahead with these snooping plans anyway; they’ve made that clear and Clegg has not ruled this out. He was there when it was agreed.

Except for the part where he’s made it clear that he didn’t sign up to anything, just that it needed review.

We know the coalition won’t go ahead with these plans as being put forward because there won’t be a coalition left, Clegg knows this and it’s been made very clear to his office team and to him directly.

The question for Nick Clegg, Tim Farron and other Libdems is this: what are their red lines? What part of that letter do Clegg or tim Farron disagree with? Without answering these questions their statements amount to posturing.

Farron isn’t posturing-even if he didn’t care himself (and I think he does), he knows full well that this would very easily break the party.

I know a number of local party officers prepared to go the distance to oust Clegg if he signs up to stupidly intrusive powers. It’s very clear he didn’t initially understand the technicalities of the proposals, but has now had it explained to him and understands how wrong they were.

The Lib Dem,s generally, accept that the country is skint and thus this means the Govt doing stuff regarding expenditure that we don’t like. The trade off is the agreement that the coalition will leave Britain more politically liberal, with stronger civil liberties, not less.

The leadership in general have had that explained to them in fairly close detail within the last week.

Simply put, this is a red line, and it could break the coalition, and Clegg’s had that made very clear to him. We now need to wait and see what is actually proposed.

FWIW, party line, which I agree with, is fundamentally opposed to the extension of powers and the poor regulation thereof introduced by Labour with RIPA. However, if the powers in RIPA were amended to be actually regulated, and strictly controlled and sbjuect to judicial oversite, then the party would consider also allowing an extension of what can be monitored, but only if existing powers are reigned back significantly. More liberal, not less.

FWIW, one of the reasons I decided to stay within the party, especially as this news broke, is I know I can do a huge amount to stop this sort of shit when the securocrats in the Home Office propose it-note that it’s a long term Home Office project that needs to be stopped dead, it’s not a tory idea and there are lots of Tories opposed as well. That Clegg and Farron are takign the strong stand they are is in part due to the pressure of senior activists and well known party bloggers such as Jennie. That’s why I’m staying. We’re stopping this.

4 MatGB:

“It’s very clear he didn’t initially understand the technicalities of the proposals, but has now had it explained to him and understands how wrong they were.”

If that’s true then that is a pretty crushing admission of incompetence, don’t you think?

What, that the DPM didn’t have knowledge of the technical details that I had to go to the head of an ISP to have explained to me (and I used to work in IT)? No, I don’t think that’s incompetence at all, I do think the Home Office technical sepcialists that explained it to the politicians need to have a severe kick in the arse for only going into the side that supported the securocrats position, but that’s a different thing.

Civil Service is supposed to provide expert advice to politicians in areas they’re not themselves experts in, in this case the advice given was one sided, that’s not the fault of the politician unless it repeats itself. Clegg now knows not to trust Home Office advice, which is a good thing in and of itself.

I don’t believe for a second that the Lib Dems won’t almost to the man vote for this after a couple of minor cosmetic alterations.

They’ll pretend they’re against it, and major changes are being made so it isn’t exactly a database state, but they’ll do so to lead opposition to it up a blind alley.

Simply put, they’ll try and pull exactly the same trick they did with the health bill, but no one is going to believe them this time.

This is a bit of false conflict between coalition partners as the local elections are coming up. People should not be fooled by more Lib Dem lies.

@7. Ben2: “I don’t believe for a second that the Lib Dems won’t almost to the man vote for this after a couple of minor cosmetic alterations.”

That’s because you do not think like a liberal.

The introduction of military conscription by Asquith in 1916 divided the party — in circumstances that were far more morally problematic than those of today.

It all happened 100 years ago, of course, but it is liberal history that inspires LibDem consciousness. And in this case, the moral message is to tell the Tories and the Home Office to get stuffed,

That Clegg and Farron are takign the strong stand they are is in part due to the pressure of senior activists and well known party bloggers such as Jennie. That’s why I’m staying. We’re stopping this.

Well – I wish you folks all the luck. but I’m slightly sceptical given this is a letter May and Clarke circulated to Tory MPs. But like I said – good luck. I fully support you folks on this.

Oust the Dear Leader?

Aye, right then!

If they wouldn’t do it over the obscenity of the Welfare ‘Reform’ Act and the Health and Social Care Act – they won’t do it over this!

Black Triangle Campaign

12. Lee griffin

I’ve recently written about my perceptions of the lib dems, feeling disappointed that a party that properly questioned the “truth”of the leading party given by the civil service has fallen in to the same traps they used to argue against.

however it’s also clear the ld leadership have been sharply woken, rightfully, over their initial negligence on this issue. from all accounts I read it seems clear the question here is between canning the bill (a rather blunt option) and reforming ripa with slight extensions and much more safeguards (huppert and conferences stance). the latter makes sense, it lets authoritarian tories claim they are making the country safer, liberal tories and lib dems claim they’ve made our privacy more secure, and cut down the main labour argument of “you are hypocrites” since it us a) incorrect and b) more applicable to labour.

Needless to say, it’s clear this is like a core red line, and if the membership are so against this, imagine what voters like me think about it. not handling this right truly would end the party.

Wot Lee said.

Sunny, the reason May and Clarke have circulated that letter is to try to get their troops, some of whom are more than wavering, back onside to strengthen the pro-case. Which means we basically need to put as much pressure as possible on Tory MPs, makeing sure they know the actual facts and similar.

I’ll be meeting with mine soon (his office is literally a stone’s throw from where I now live and Jennie’s running against his office manager for the local council seat), and I’ll do simple things like show him an email header and the point that it’s impossible to just keep the header, etc.

Basically, the LDs are pretty much on side (whatever satire sites and the usual idiots think), the important thing is to get as many Tory backbenchers to go with their libertarian/”an englishman’s home is his castle” instincts not their “nothing to hide” side.

Then of course there’s Labour, whose MPs simply can’t be trusted on this sort of thing, although some are very sound (Watson, as always, a good ally to have).

I think, once the actual consultation paper is published, we ought to organise a concerted effort to contact and inform each individual MP and then record where they are on the issues. Information and education will be important here, a lot of the technical stuff goes over my head and if it confuses me, it’s going to confuse non geeky MPs ten+ years older’n me.

The Lib Dems seem to be playing the role of Medea to the Tories’ Jason.

(I mean on the flight from Colchis, not the later tragedy)

Maybe it’s just me…

Care to offer any actual proof that this isn’t a bit of false conflict cooked up for the local elections to try to prevent another Lib Dem rout?

Asking people to take what Lib Dems say on trust given everything that has happened previously, like doing the same thing with the Health bill, when the Lib Dems have voted with the Tories at every opportunity, makes it seem like you have a firm belief that voters are stupid.

And if we’re going to talk about Liberal principle from 100 years ago, why not bring up corruption on an industrial scale (particularly the sale of honours) or the rather brutal struggle the Liberals waged against the suffragettes?

The Lib Dems have a long history of talking about civil liberties, but now it is actually time to do something to defend them.

Ben:

If this was concocted for Local Election reasons then they have monumentally shot themselves in the foot. I’m not sure how making local supporters and activists doubt their party’s core credentials, on issues that they hadn’t even considered would be an option on the table, is a vote winning strategy.

Given latest Lib Dem form it’s clear this is just more incompetence in vigilance and scrutiny at the pre-bill level, unless they are now extending that incompetence to a usually very competent election campaigning arena.

17. Chaise Guevara

@ 16 Lee

Huh? I would have said that opposing web snooping was very much in tune with Lib Dem core principles, at least on paper. Are you saying that its supporters are going to be horrified by its failure to be authoritarian?

Chaise, when the news broke, it was presented as a coalition proposal with LD support, and a briefing document got leaked showing someone senior in the LDs thought it a good plan. Locally I and two other Exec officers had to recall a press release issued by our well meaning press officer based on the briefing doc.

We nearly lost half our exec, I lost an activist, I know people who’ve actually quit. Because it looked like the party leadership was supporting it. It took serious effort from people to make sure that didn’t happen, but a lot of people, right now, still think it’s going ahead with LD support as they’ve only heard the negative headlines or seen 38 Degrees hyperbole and blamed it on “the govt” which contains LDs.

Lee’s right, if this was some idiotic way to have a fight, then the genius in charge of that strategy needs to be drummed out of employment-I’m 100% certain that isn’t the case, there’s no conspiracy here, it’s just cock up.

That’s what I dislike most about the whole “being in coalition” lark, our lot have no idea how to play the politics of it, and when presented with an open goal they kick the ball back upfield.

And yes, you’re right, it is in line with LD core principles, for a very large number of the membership and activist base, and most of the MPs. But not every LD prioritises this sort of thing, or even understands the technicalities-and that’s the biggest problem. Hopefully Clegg will now work harder to make sure he gets decent technical advice on this stuff, it’s not like he doesn’t have access to it, Richard Allen got made a peer FFS.

19. Chaise Guevara

@ 18

Commenting on a technology-related issue without understanding the technology in question is always a great way for a politician to make an idiot out of themselves. I’m an avid gamer, and have lost count of the times a public figure has loudly condemned a game in a way that shows that not only have they not actually played the game in question, but they don’t actually understand the medium itself. So a game that includes a single brief sex scene (which tend to be fairly tame in games) becomes a “sex simulator” in the minds of moral guardians.

[Veers away from pet peeve topic and back to the subject at hand.] Basically, it’s not reasonable to expect each individual politician to be an expert on everything, but it IS reasonable to expect them to at least get briefed before forming policy.

Basically, it’s not reasonable to expect each individual politician to be an expert on everything, but it IS reasonable to expect them to at least get briefed before forming policy.

Agree completely, the problem here from what I can gather is that the briefings received were from Civil Servants, who’re supposed to give even handed briefings, but when it comes to technology/snooping stuff seem to default to “more power is good”, and that’s an issue that has to be rectified (and behind the scenes that is being worked on)


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Bob Ellard

    Web snooping plans: where do the Libdems stand? http://t.co/kjBShNBS << and why they're in trouble

  2. BevR

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  3. arealpayne

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  4. Ray Sirotkin

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  5. Matthew Tyler

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  6. Police State UK

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  7. Hacker Fantastic

    Web snooping plans: where do the Libdems stand? http://t.co/kjBShNBS << and why they're in trouble

  8. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – Web snooping plans: where do Libdems stand? http://t.co/so1AzQCI

  9. Macros The Black

    RT @sunny_hundal: Web snooping plans: where do the Libdems stand? http://t.co/N50jMABC << and why they're in trouble

  10. ciderpunx

    Web snooping plans: where do the Libdems stand? http://t.co/kjBShNBS << and why they're in trouble

  11. leespr13

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  12. CllrAsifK

    Web snooping plans: where do Libdems stand? http://t.co/XOS8kVrs

  13. Verity

    Web snooping plans: where do the Libdems stand? http://t.co/kjBShNBS << and why they're in trouble

  14. Verity

    nick clegg + libdems set to push ahead with internet snooping plans against libdem party wishes http://t.co/PrLp7kYi #ConfessionHour

  15. Jonathan Calder

    Web snooping plans: where do Libdems stand? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/BV61Gu2u via @libcon

  16. sunny hundal

    Libdem activist Mat GB writes local party officers will move to oust Nick Clegg if web snooping bill goes ahead as is http://t.co/Z9kzhvYb

  17. Jordan Millward

    Libdem activist Mat GB writes local party officers will move to oust Nick Clegg if web snooping bill goes ahead as is http://t.co/Z9kzhvYb

  18. @GrannyWils

    Libdem activist Mat GB writes local party officers will move to oust Nick Clegg if web snooping bill goes ahead as is http://t.co/Z9kzhvYb

  19. Free spirit

    Libdem activist Mat GB writes local party officers will move to oust Nick Clegg if web snooping bill goes ahead as is http://t.co/Z9kzhvYb

  20. Stephe Meloy

    Libdem activist Mat GB writes local party officers will move to oust Nick Clegg if web snooping bill goes ahead as is http://t.co/Z9kzhvYb

  21. paul smith

    Web snooping plans: where do Libdems stand? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/4vhuINWN via @libcon

  22. Benjamin Ramm

    Libdem activist Mat GB writes local party officers will move to oust Nick Clegg if web snooping bill goes ahead as is http://t.co/Z9kzhvYb

  23. Tracey Wise

    Libdem activist Mat GB writes local party officers will move to oust Nick Clegg if web snooping bill goes ahead as is http://t.co/Z9kzhvYb

  24. McGinOxford

    Libdem activist Mat GB writes local party officers will move to oust Nick Clegg if web snooping bill goes ahead as is http://t.co/Z9kzhvYb

  25. Coz Hyatt

    Libdem activist Mat GB writes local party officers will move to oust Nick Clegg if web snooping bill goes ahead as is http://t.co/Z9kzhvYb

  26. itsnotme

    Libdem activist Mat GB writes local party officers will move to oust Nick Clegg if web snooping bill goes ahead as is http://t.co/Z9kzhvYb

  27. Web snooping plans: where do Libdems stand? « jerrywaggon1

    [...] Source: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2012/04/11/web-snooping-plans-where-do-libdems-stand/ [...]

  28. Verity

    Vote for the surveillence state + erosion of your privacy. Vote libdem in May http://t.co/PrLp7kYi #changethebloodyrecord #LibDems

  29. kevin leonard

    @tlittleford Making up your mind how to vote? remember what the libdems do http://t.co/U2oFtLvM http://t.co/8rNkbFjL http://t.co/zF8mZWoi





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