“Home Office is showing us they just don’t understand or care about our privacy” – Liberal Democrats

Commenting on the publication of the IP Bill Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Home Affairs said:

“The Bill still has no section on privacy, no meaningful independent judicial oversight, and no clarity on whether British businesses, just like Apple in the US, would be forced to break the encryption they use to protect their customers.

“Despite all the concerns raised, the Home Office is still showing us that they just don’t understand or care about our privacy. Changing the name of one section of the Bill comes nowhere close to demands to ensure that privacy protections are the ‘backbone’ of the legislation. It is an insult to Parliament and the people of this country.

“This is why the Home Secretary is pushing this Bill through without the time for full and proper scrutiny – because she knows that given the chance, Parliament would tear it apart.”

Lord Strasburger, Liberal Democrat member of the Joint Select Committee scrutinising the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill said:

“Nothing has changed since I made my comments on the draft bill three weeks ago.

“The Home Office just doesn’t do privacy. It does security and ever more intrusive powers they claim will make us safer, but not privacy.

“The fact that they see simply changing the name of one section to include the word ‘privacy’ as addressing the fundamental concerns about privacy protections in this bill is breath-taking.

“The speed with which the Home Secretary is trying to force this Bill through parliament shows no respect to the Joint Committee and ISC who worked so hard to give them workable solutions to problems in the Draft Bill, to parliament, or to the British people.”

Never again…

A Jewish mother cradling her child, both stripped naked and about to be murdered. All because of their race, culture and religion. Never forget the evil of the Holocaust.

A Jewish mother cradling her child, both stripped naked and about to be murdered. All because of their race, culture and religion. Never forget the evil of the Holocaust.

I studied Holocaust studies at University as part of my Humanities degree. People tell me ‘oh people aren’t interested in civil liberties’ as a political issue. Well i’m interested in it, the reason being that it’s by safeguarding our liberties that we prevent repeating the horrors of persecution humans experienced, both in the holocaust, and in modern day atrocities that are occurring right now.

Emotive responses, commemorative events, and remembrance are important. What is much more important though that all of you who feel empathy towards the victims of the holocaust go out there and fight to protect your liberties. Fight to protect them from a surveillance state, fight to protect them from the enemies of human rights,fight to protect them from the preachers of hate that seek to divide humanity in pursuit of their own narrow interests.

Go and join Liberty, the Open Rights Group, Justice or NO2ID. Donate money, be an advocate for freedom in the letters pages of your local paper. Join a party that will protect the individual, no matter what their creed or religion from the state. Do something today to help prevent this ever happening again.

I’m speaking at the alternative Magna Carta festival this Saturday



I’ve been invited to speak briefly on behalf of NO2ID at the alternative Magna Carta festival that is taking place in London this Saturday. It should be an interesting event for anyone who is like myself interested in civil liberties issues! The blurb for the event is copied below:

Paul Mason, Zoe Williams, Keir Starmer QC MP and many others – collaborating with Free Word and eleven partners including Apples and Snakes, ARTICLE 19, BRITDOC, Little Atoms, Open Rights Group, openDemocracy and many others, to build an alternative Magna Carta celebration.

Paul Mason, Zoe Williams, Keir Starmer QC MP, Suzanne Moore, Nick Cohen, Bob + Roberta Smith, Dawn Foster, Martin Rowson, Naomi Alderman, Ted Vallance, and many others – all for just a fiver!

With human rights under attack on the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, some of the biggest names in economics, literature, journalism, politics, and art will come together for a day of debate, discussion, film, music, literature, debate, speeches, poetry and polemic.

There’s never been a more important time for a Magna Carta event with teeth – and where better to do this than Clerkenwell, an historic place of dissent?

This event promises to be the most vibrant political, literary, and arts festival this summer.

Tickets just £5 – a limited number available here: http://alternativemagnacarta.org.uk/

Blanket ban on psychoactives will do little to reduce harm

The plethora of unknown chemicals contained within ‘legal’ highs is a direct result of years of prohibition. As prohibition created the incentive for producers of drugs to experiment with new chemicals to create legal versions of illegal drugs.

Whilst there are many benefits to selling chemicals in ‘head shops’ that pay taxes rather than via criminal drug dealers, the cat and mouse game between prohibitionists and produces has created additional risks to users. The reason being that people who take these new drugs simply don’t know what it is they are taking, or how to take them in a manner that reduces the risks. This is the problem with prohibition, it increases the dangers associated with taking drugs because the supply is completely unregulated, and often adulterated.

We urgently need to start treating drug use as a health matter, and regulating and licensing the safest form of substances. Both Norman Lamb MP and Tim Farron MP the contenders for the leadership Liberal Democrat leadership have said they would like to see this move towards an evidence based reform of drug laws. Reforms that would likely result in the legalisation of some of the least harmful substances such as cannabis (as has been done now in US states like Colorado)

This Liberal approach is in sharp contest to the ill thought out blanket ban on psychoactive proposed by the Home Office and rubber stamped by the Conservatives. An ill thought out ban that defines the term psychoactive so broadly that it could be read to mean any substance consumed to affect a change in mood, a ban that will impinge on the research into the affects of chemicals on the brain, a ban that allows a nannying authoritarian home office tell you what you can or can’t do with your life.

Labour attacks Lib Dems for being ‘soft on drugs’

Many US states have now moved towards legalizing cannabis, and Portugal has decriminalized drug use. We have been losing the war on drugs for years, and the mood of the times is to try a different approach. An approach where people who use drugs are given support and help to quit their habits rather than one in which they are locked up. This is the approach that Liberal Democrats argue is needed, it is the type of approach that has shown great success in places like Portugal.

Drug dealing is prevalent in Warley ward, you only have to spend a bit of time walking around before you will see people waiting at the side of the street for someone to drop of packages. The Police are totally unable to cope with the problem. The money from this illegal trade goes often goes to organised criminal gangs who are involved in serious crime like people trafficking. It is no different from prohibition era america where gangs took control of the trade in alcohol.

I would like to see a situation where drug users where given the help they were needed to end their habits. The cost of locking people up is extortionate and it would be better spent on treatment. Improving these services and helping people to stop taking drugs is what would really help to stop drug dealing in the ward.

The local Labour candidate in her leaflet says “No to Drugs” yet her party is failing to grasp how to solve the problem, and wants to continue with the failed model of criminalizing drug users and locking them up in prison. Let’s be clear if we continue on this policy approach we have done in the past nothing will change, you will still have your children exposed unregulated, criminal  drugs dealing on the streets. Labour want to appear tough on law on order and try and attack the Liberal Democrats for being ‘soft’. The truth is there is nothing soft in having the wisdom in seeing we need to reform our drug laws, having the wisdom to tackle the problems of mental health, and having the wisdom of not criminalizing young people and ruining their life chances.

EDIT – I just wanted to add the reason I feel so strongly about this is because when I was 16 I had a girlfriend whose mother was suffering from serious depression and also addicted to Heroin. I tried to support my girlfriend at the time, who was having to basically care for her mother and try and get her help to beat her addiction. The threat of criminal proceedings, and fear her mother would be locked up added to her stress and the difficulty of the situation. They both needed the help of a compassionate society to get treatment. It’s medieval and barbaric to think what was needed was to lock that person up in a prison, yet that’s what Labour are advocating simply to try and win a few votes.




Allowing membership of terrorist organisations is a threat to liberty

In a recent TV interview the Green Party leader Natalie Bennett made the startling announcement that her party would allow people to join terrorist organisations like ISIS, the IRA or Al-Qaeda. Apparently under a Green government people would be allowed to help organize, recruit and support these terrorist organisations so long as they didn’t commit or encourage violence themselves.

Our local Green candidates need to come clean and say whether they support this dangerous policy of allowing people to join organisations who are committed to violent means to impose their views upon others. This is a policy which would give a green light for extremist organisations to setup shop in our local communities. These organisations would start radicalizing people into fascist ideologies that seek to destroy our free, democratic and liberal way of life.

There are many civil liberties and freedoms that I as a Liberal would fight tooth and nail to protect. I’m motivated by trying to create a free and tolerant society in which people of all religions, sexuality and belief can co-exist. Let’s be clear though the freedom to belong to a terrorist organisation hell-bent on destroying that liberal way of life is not a freedom any right minded person ought to support.

Time to legalise cannabis

I frequently read in the Courier how the Police have raided houses and caught various people growing cannabis plants. The preferred phrase for such operations is now ‘cannabis factories’ which conjures up images of Blake’s dark satanic mills. On the one hand the Police are to be congratulated on efficiently enforcing the law of the land. However I fear in this case the law really is wrong and ought to change, and using up Police resources to enforce prohibition is a folly.

In Colorado, USA the law has already changed. Cannabis is now legal and is set to raise $134M in taxes in the next financial year. Crime has halved and the criminal justice system has more time to tackle offences that hurt other people. The taxes raised can be used to help provide health services, education and help support people who are addicted to other drugs like alcohol or smoking (which due to social norms we don’t commonly refer to as drugs even though they are).

Legalisation of cannabis has to be an improvement on the current situation where the proceeds of this prohibited plant go to the black market and fund more serious forms of organised crime. That shouldn’t surprise us as the prohibition of alcohol in the US had the same impact, an increase of organised criminal activity.

Prohibition simply doesn’t work. The war on drugs is damaging society, criminalising people who are not really criminals, and wasting millions on enforcement whilst denying lucrative tax revenue that could help repair the hole in the nation’s finances.

More importantly prohibition restricts people’s freedoms and liberty. If people want to consumer a plant such as cannabis society should not criminalise them for doing so. As a liberal I’m a passionate defender of the maxim ‘do what you want so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else’. If someone complains I’m ‘soft on drugs’ so be it, to them I say this: I’m not soft on drugs, I’m strong on liberty.

Restriction to public bodies that can access RIPA – Missing in Action

Last week I spoke to Julian Huppert MP about my concerns with the DRIP Act that was then passing through parliament. He informed me that one safeguard the Liberal Democrats had won was a restriction to the number of organisations that could access communications data retained under the new act through use of RIPA powers. If you are not familiar with what RIPA is then here is a good report on it by Big Brother Watch.  Julian informed me the bodies that could access RIPA powers would be restricted via a Statutory Instrument.  The same claim was made by Julian in his article on Liberal Democrat Voice:

We will restrict the number of public bodies that are able to approach phone and internet companies and ask for communications data. Some bodies will lose their powers to access data altogether while local authorities will be required to go through a single central authority who will make the request on their behalf.

A restriction to the bodies that can access RIPA would be a good liberal move, restricting some of the more frivolous abuses of surveillance powers. Currently these restrictions it was announced the Lib Dems had won are missing in action. If you spot them please let me know!

Liberty claim new surveillance powers breach Human Rights

A joint Liberty, Privacy International, Open Rights Group, Article 19, Big Brother Watch, English PEN briefing on the emergency surveillance powers announced by the coalition government claims powers granted by the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (DRIP) would breach Human Rights legislation.

In an email sent to parliamentarians Liberty make the following statement:

“Clause 1 of the Bill contains powers for the Government to continue to mandate blanket retention of communications data within the UK for 12 months. This is in direct contradiction of a CJEU judgment, delivered in April, which held that blanket indiscriminate retention of such private data breached human rights. The judgment laid out ten criteria for proportionate retention and access to communications data that are ignored in this Bill. The Government has known of the judgment for over three months and cannot justify the ’emergency’ it now claims.”

The question should no longer be whether Lib Dem MPs won enough concessions, but whether they are prepared to back a bill that Liberty claim is in direct contradiction to a European Court of Justice ruling on Human Rights.

You can read the briefing in full here

Briefing on the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill

Data retention – Devil is in the detail

Emergency legislation has been announced today on new data retention legislation. I think those of a Liberal mind should rightly be very sceptical of legislation which apparently had the backing of all three party leaders before it was announced to the public.  To give a bit of background there is a need for new legislation after the EU data retention directive got struck down by the CJEU. Since that happened in April the UK has been carrying on with its blanket data retention regime.

The significant part of that ruling is in para 58

“Restrict retention to data that is related to a threat to public security and in particular restrict retention to a particular time period, geographical area and / or suspects or persons whose data would contribute to the prevention or prosecution of crime.”

That should kill blanket retention dead, unless the UK can demonstrate it’s needed for national security and proportionate for a democracy. That will probably be heading to Strasbourg for a ruling (although it’s worth noting Terrorism is generally considered  a criminal issue than national security issue, as despite the serious threat it posses to life and property it rarely if ever actually threatens the integrity of the state).

New Secretary of State powers

The Liberal Democrats were/are  in a very powerful situation to demand compliance with that aspect of the ruling as the price of any new legislation. The new legislation is presented to us as the status quo with some additional protection for civil liberties. This isn’t actually the case as it contains a number of provisions for the Secretary of State to make future changes to it via means of Statutory Instruments (a parliamentary procedure that lacks real scrutiny). In this regard it is actually enabling legislation that allows for the potential of illiberal measures to be pushed through by the Home Office and Home Secretary. Either in another future emergency, or more likely overtime slowly with a series of seemingly banal changes.

The Secretary of State may by regulations make further provision about the
Such provision may, in particular, include provision about
(a) requirements before giving a retention notice,
(b) the maximum period for which data is to be retained under a retention 5
(c) the content, giving, coming into force, review, variation or revocation
of a retention notice,
(d) the integrity, security or protection of, access to, or the disclosure or destruction of, data retained by virtue of this section


Any power to make regulations under section 1ó
(a) is exercisable by statutory instrument,
(b) includes power to
(i) confer or impose functions (including those involving the exercise of a discretion) on any person (including the Secretary of State),

No expert or public input

The other real problem this legislation has is that technical legal and privacy experts have been given no opportunity to contribute towards it. As they normally would do via means of public briefings to MPs and political parties. It’s disingenuous to spin this as an emergency as the need for new legislation stems from a court ruling that happened three months ago. Nor has there been any public debate around the nature of new powers that are needed. Both of these things should give any mature democracy cause for concern. It’s also a strategic mistake as it’s really going to upset privacy and civil liberty groups. Hence why you have reactions like this from ORG, a negative reaction from Liberty and from NO2ID.

No Emergency stop the data retention stitch up 

DRIP bill means future torrent of surveillance powers.

Emergency data law: “A debate for the future”?