Data, digital, Politics, Security

Your Privacy at Risk – Your Security Enhanced?

This is the text of my speech today in the Lords on the controversial Data Retention & Investigatory Powers Bill

My Lords, I have to start—like the noble Lord, Lord Butler, who made such an excellent contribution—by saying that the Government’s handling of this Bill has been a disgrace. I cannot repeat any better why it is a disgrace, and it would be ridiculous of me to try to compete with the noble Lord’s analysis. To have given Parliament three days when they have had three months to consider their response is a disgrace. Although my ministerial experience, at just five years, is much more limited than that of the previous speaker, whom I equally respect, particularly his experience as Home Secretary, I know that when there was the threat of a case in the European Court, Ministers would receive a risk analysis. I find it difficult to believe that no one in the Home Office had a plan B. If they were to lose that case, the thinking was not going on within government as to how they were going to handle losing the case and the uncertainty with which they would then have to deal with the RIPA powers. So I am afraid that that is my starting point.

I would also strongly agree with my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon and others when they say that there is a need for Parliament to be seen to address the very real public concerns over the balance of privacy and security and the desire for personalisation of digital services. Some of us use digital services very heavily and are only just becoming aware of how much our desire for all those personal services that come through on our phones and tablets generate metadata that are now the subject of this legislation. Given the need for Parliament to be seen to address and debate, and lead a debate in the wider public, on those concerns, it is an affront to see the legislation railroaded using the fast-track mechanism. The basis of my comments is to analyse whether some of that is justified.

Yesterday, as is my wont, I gave some friends and some of their family who are over from Canada a tour of the Palace of Westminster. Highlights of that tour are always things such as the Magna Carta; there is a copy in the Content Lobby, and we will enjoy celebrating its 800-year anniversary next year. Then there is the statue of Lord Falkland, where the sword was cut to allow a suffragette called Marjory Hume to be taken off to prison in 1909, and the plaque commemorating Nelson Mandela speaking in Westminster Hall. Best of all is the broom cupboard in the Crypt, where Emily Wilding Davison hid on the night of the 1911 census, and the phrase at the end that Tony Benn put there:

“By such means was democracy won for the people of Britain”.

That tour contains in its highlights all those moments where we recognise hard-won civil liberties for us as individuals, both here and around the world. It is incumbent on us as a Parliament and those who serve at any given time in this Parliament to protect those liberties as strongly as we protect the safety and security of the people in this country.

We also need to remember that we have a different tolerance of our own privacy, because we agree to become public figures when we agree to come here, than do most people who live in our country. The information in Who’s Who would probably allow anyone who wanted to steal some of my information to do so, because it has my mother’s maiden name as well as my date of birth, which are the sort of questions that you get asked online. We understand that when we fill out the entry in Who’s Who and we are aware of the risks that we take when we do so. I hope when we make up our security information online that we are also aware of it and are accordingly cautious.

We also need to be aware of the issue of metadata. When I sat in the audience in the Donmar Warehouse theatre a month or so ago, as a guest of my noble friend Lord Mitchell, watching the play “Privacy”, we heard gasps from the audience when they found out how the default settings on an iPhone mean that Apple knows exactly where we are and exactly when at any given time, unless we change those settings. They were some of the greatest moments of theatre that I have seen in some years—it was my first profession— when I heard the gasps of the audience who saw the pictures of their houses flashed up on the back of the screen, because the researcher had researched them using metadata to show where they all lived. That is metadata, the subject of the Bill—and that is something that we have to be cautious about.

There has been a breakdown of trust in recent years between the people of this country and the state, particularly those pursuing criminal investigations. This is because of Hillsborough and Savile; because of phone hacking, and plebgate. We must have an active debate on a regular basis because of PRISM and because of the powers that the private sector and, through it, the state and GCHQ have to access our data. As a Parliament we have been remiss in not debating Snowden as actively as we should have and as actively as they have done in the US. If we do not, I think we are failing the public

I am persuaded by the arguments that Clauses 1 to 3 are necessary. I believe that security and the ability to continue criminal investigations mean that we have no choice but to pass Clauses 1 to 3 of this Bill. This was well put by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. We need the status quo for criminal investigations.

I welcome the concessions that my right honourable friend the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, has won in getting the RIPA review and six-monthly reporting into the legislation. I worry that the thinking behind these reviews is through the prism—if that is not the wrong word—of security and law enforcement as the starting point, rather than the data privacy of individuals. I should also like to see a review of the operation of the Information Commissioner’s Office. According to its website, it is:

“The UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals”.

That office needs to be the guardian of members of the public on these issues. I hope the Minister will be able to give an assurance from the Dispatch Box that the Information Commissioner’s Office will be included in some of that review work.

Clause 4 concerns what I will call the new powers overseas because I cannot pronounce extraterritoriality very well. I struggle to see the emergency for this to be included in a fast-track Bill. In the report of the Constitution Committee, published today, paragraph 11 says:

“It is not clear why these provisions need to be fast-tracked”.

It may not be fashionable to quote Liberty but it says that Clause 5 of DRIP, read together with Clause 4 (8), gives the Government “new, express powers” to go to foreign webmail providers and demand that they hand over or obtain communications data. The objectives of the snoopers’ charter are therefore met via another route. That is their charge. If the Minister were able to respond to that, I think that supporters of Liberty would be pleased to hear it.

As I am sure your Lordships will all have done, I have received a letter from a list of highly credible legal experts on internet law. These are professors from a whole range of our best universities. They say that this clause,

“introduces powers that are not only completely novel in the United Kingdom, they are some of the first of their kind globally”

The letter continues,

“the proposed Bill arguably breaches EU law to the extent that it falls within the scope of EU law, since such mass surveillance would still fall foul of the criteria set out by the Court of Justice of the EU in the Digital Rights and Seitlinger judgment”.

They would say that the reassurance which the Minister gave, following my intervention, is not true. I am sure that everything the Minister is saying is on good advice and in good faith. I know him to be a completely honourable and truthful man and I do not question what he is saying. However, I would value it if he were able to publish or circulate to Members of your Lordships’ House the advice he has received that this legislation, particularly Clause 4, is not in further breach of EU law, and that it will not extend the legal rights—not the practice but the legal rights—of government in respect of these matters.

On balance, very reluctantly, I support the Second Reading of this Bill, but I question whether Clause 4 should continue to be in the Bill.

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