UK Liberty

Jacqui’s speech to the IPPR

Posted in database state, law and order, politicians on liberty, surveillance society by ukliberty on October 16, 2008

The transcript is now on-line.

We can quibble about whether or not we think a history of ‘international terrorism’ should at least mention the IRA – Jacqui doesn’t, I do – but that’s not particularly important.

This is interesting:

We are looking much more closely at the financing not just of terror but of radicalisation itself.  And as I promised earlier this year, we have engaged closely with companies that supply filtering and parental control software to ensure that these products provide a high level of protection against material that promotes or encourages terrorism or violent extremism.

What criteria are applied?  We should carefully scrutinise government restrictions on speech.  Has this been debated in Parliament or has the Home Office simply gone off and ‘suggested’ (in the sense of, if you don’t regulate it we will) what sort of speech should be restricted?

This is strange:

And experts, people who actually do this work,

– unlike armchair critics (indeed, why bother employing a Home Secretary? Why not just let the experts do what they want?) –

have explained clearly to me that this process [gathering interlligence and evidence over multiple jurisdictions] inevitably takes time.

It would be odd if it was instantaneous, wouldn’t it? Oh, cheap shot, sure.

We should be clear that all this not ‘Government policy’ which is somehow optional.

Well of course decisions are optional!  Beware, she is trying to frame the debate – to get us arguing about it on her terms. There is more than one option and indeed combination of options.  More than what she is ‘offering’.

Now, this is the bit that has caused a stir (see the Independent, The Register, the BBC):

Our ability to intercept communications and obtain communications data is vital to fighting terrorism and combating serious crime, including child sex abuse, murder and drugs trafficking. Communications Data – that is, data about calls, such as the location and identity of the caller, not the content of the calls themselves – is used as important evidence in 95% of serious crime cases and in almost all Security Service operations since 2004.

But the communications revolution has been rapid in this country and the way in which we intercept communications and collect communications data needs to change too. If it does not we will lose this vital capability that we currently have and that we all take for granted. [For example, in the Soham murders and 21/7 convictions.]

All this is a reflection of the technological and behavioural changes that the growth of the internet brings. Once again, that is not a Government policy which is somehow optional. It is a reality to which Government needs to respond.

That’s part of the problem, right there: setting up a database with the intention of recording the details of our calls is optional, just as doing something else is an option, and doing nothing is an option. Again, there are lots of options.

It is interesting that there is no mention of the European Directive that has helped put us into this position nor the (controversial) process that led up to it.  And no, I’m not blaming ‘Europe’, I’m blaming the Council of Ministers (under the UK Presidency), including Charles Clarke MP (Labour), then Home Secretary (now an insurgent).

The changes we need to make may require legislation. The safeguards we will want to put in place certainly will. And we may need legislation to test what a solution will look like.

But before proceeding to legislation, I am clear that we need to consult widely with the public and all interested parties to set out the emerging problem, the important capability gaps that we need to address and to look at the possible solutions.  We also  need to agree what safeguards will be needed, in addition to the many we have in place already, to provide a solid legal framework which protects civil liberties.

This consultation will begin in the New Year and I want this to be combined with a well-informed debate characterised by openness, rather than mere opinion, by reason and reasonableness.  In this, as in the other work we do, my aim is to achieve a consensus and I hope that others will approach the serious issues posed for our national security capabilities in the same spirit.

So let me set the terms for that open and reasoned debate now,

Er no Jacqui, you don’t do that if you want a “well-informed debate characterised by openness, … by reason and reasonableness”.

and be clear on what we are not going to do.

There are no plans for an enormous database which will contain the content of your emails, the texts that you send or the chats you have on the phone or online.

Well, not yet –  but probably only because it’s beyond our capabilities at this time.  I think it will be difficult enough to store just the identities and dates and times etc, let alone the content.  Indeed, so difficult that smaller ISPs might not have to bother! (hmm, wonder what the terrorists will use?)

Nor are we going to give local authorities the power to trawl through such a database in the interest of investigating lower level criminality under the spurious cover of counter terrorist legislation.

Precedent suggests otherwise!  Assertions and promises are worthless – we must wait and see what is in the Bill.

Local authorities do not have the power to listen to your calls now and they never will in future.

But will they be able to see the other details of our calls? Who we communicated with, at what time,  and for how long?  Or will they be able to ask third parties to investigate our calls on their behalf?

You would rightly object to proposals of this kind and I would not consider them. What we will be proposing will be options which follow the key principles which govern all our work in this area – the principles of proportionality and necessity.


Terrorism has changed, is changing, and will continue to change. We have no option other than to respond

That’s not true at all – doing nothing is an option, and it is important – well, vital – to note that the manner of the response is optional.

if we are to remain constant and true in our defence of British liberties and British security.

We rely not only on our police and law enforcement but on all parts of Government, on our communities, on international partners and on industry. We rely on the law and we need to be sure that the law evolves as the threat changes in a way consistent with our rights and freedoms. We rely on technology to provide us with solutions.

I like the Home Office spokesman who complained that the Government can’t identify people when they call themselves “Mickey Mouse” and chat with each other in an online game or somesuch – I cannot see how Jacqui’s database is going to cope with the amount of games and other online means of communicating, but then I’m not one of these experts “who actually do this work”, so what do I know?

Interesting that,

A leaked memo written by sources close to the so-called interception modernisation programme said that officials in the Home Office viewed a giant database as “impractical, disproportionate, politically unattractive and possibly unlawful from a human rights perspective”.


One Response

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  1. David Mery said, on October 16, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    > We rely on technology to provide us with solutions.

    That last line in the conclusion sums up this speech too well.

    Contrast this approach with the catalogue of non technological failures exposed by the de Menezes inquest (summaries of highlights of the transcripts in this very blog at

    When anti-terrorist operations are laid bare for all to get some understanding of what really happens, technology is not what to look for for solutions.

    br -d

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