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Saying no to intrusive Government surveillance

jennyReading Liberal Democrat Jenny Woods is once again saying no to intrusive Government surveillance.

Last year she helped see off the Government’s “snooper’s charter” which would have meant local internet and phone companies having to store everyone’s phone, email and web history.

This year, with Lib Dem MPs Julian Huppert and Tim Farron, she is leading the charge for a “Digital Bill of Rights”

Under proposals co-authored by Jenny which were debated and signed off at the recent Lib Dem national conference, this would mean:

- No to bulk collection of data: the Government should only be able to collect the data of people suspected of crimes
- No automatic export of data: America’s NSA should not have automatic access to British people’s information
- Yes to greater transparency: Parliament would have to sign off on surveillance powers, and the Government would have to report on its activities

Jenny said, “We should have the same rights online as we have in the real world. The revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden have shown that spies were even collecting pictures from ordinary people’s webcams.”

She added, “I’m delighted that, following this conference motion, the Lib Dems will be driving a review of the law in this area, keeping our homes safe from intrusion in the 21st Century”

Singh and Libel Law Reform

Reading University LibDem President, Ben Thomas

Reading University LibDem President, Ben Thomas

Reading University Liberal Democrat President Ben Thomas welcomes the libel law reform, championed by Liberal Democrats in Government:

“On the 24th April, the Commons voted through landmark libel law reform. As Liberals, we should be trumpeting this achievement. Protecting scientific inquiry from the interference of big businesses is surely one of the landmark achievements of this government. Dr Julian Huppert MP has been instrumental in pushing this since his election, building on the ground prepared by Dr Evan Harris and Lord Lester. Lord McNally also deserves generous credit as the minister responsible. However, this story’s greatest hero does not hail from the political bubble. This victory for scientific independence and free speech owes as much to a softly-spoken physicist called Simon Singh as it does to the efforts of Liberal Democrats.

In 2008, Simon Singh co-wrote a book investigating “alternative medicine” – in particular acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal medicine, and chiropractic treatments. Singh had been known as a talented scientific communicator for some time, writing several books on maths and science in a way that was accessible, interesting, and informative for non-scientists. He summarised his conclusions about chiropractic treatments in an article for the Guardian.

The British Chiropractic Organisation (BCA) was not happy with the scientific light shed on its methods, many of which were exposed as not just bogus, but dangerous and in some cases even fatal. Devoid of a defence in the laboratory, the BCA attacked Singh in the courtroom, utilising the UK’s ridiculous libel laws. The case initially seemed to be going their way, as a judge ruled that because Singh’s writings were fact, not opinion, he could not use the “fair comment defence”. However, Singh refused to back down, and rallied significant support in the scientific and political communities. Later that year, Singh’s appeal succeeded and he turned his attention immediately to demanding the reform of the ludicrous system that granted immunity from exposure as a fraud to those with enough money. Now, his campaign has finally succeeded.

We owe a lot to Simon Singh. He refused to sit down and accept that he had to sweep his scientific research under the carpet just because a group with enough money to fight him in court decided it disliked the results of his investigations. He saw that such a system destroyed scientific integrity and independence and put lives at risk in order to protect financial interests. He didn’t do it alone – but it wouldn’t have happened without him, and we are all in his debt.”

Local campaigner Jenny Woods sees off the “Snoopers Charter”

Jenny WoodsLocal campaigner Jenny Woods is celebrating the announcement, made by Nick Clegg on Thursday, that the “Snoopers’ Charter” is being dropped.

The proposed new laws, also known as the “Draft Communications Data Bill”, would have meant that details of everyone’s emails, phone records, even internet browsing history would have been available to the Government. Communications companies, many big local employers, would also have been forced to keep much of this data.

But thanks to a campaign that Jenny started in February 2012, with support from Internet boffins in Reading, that will not now happen.

As soon as rumours of the plans leaked from the Home Office last year, Jenny consulted Internet security experts in Reading. Her conclusions became official Lib Dem Party policy last March, following a motion passed at the Party’s Gateshead conference. Not content with that, Jenny lobbied MPs and Peers all through the year.

Although Theresa May’s Home Office pressed on, Lib Dem opposition meant the plans could not proceed, leading to Nick Clegg’s announcement on Thursday 26 April.

Jenny said, “These proposals would have intruded on everyone’s privacy, they would have damaged our local businesses and would have taken police away from their crime-fighting duties. I’m delighted to see them thrown out.”

Reference article on LibDem Voice, which provides comprehensive details on this issue:

Details of the Lib Dem conference motion:

Reading Liberal Democrats welcome MPs vote in favour of Equal Marriage rights

Rainbow Hearts Reading Lib Dems applaud the news that MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of Equal Marriage Rights on the third reading. We know that the outcome will make many people in Reading very happy. This is a positive step forward towards true equality for all in the UK.

Georgina Hughes, Chair of Greater Reading Liberal Democrats said:

“I’m delighted by this news and want to thank all MPs who had the courage to vote for equal marriage rights. I’m particularly proud that the vast majority Liberal Democrat MPs voted in favour. This is a great day for equal rights in Britain”

The stats

Of all the MPs that voted:

  • 7% LibDems voted against
  • 9% Labour voted against
  • 51% Conservatives voted against

There has been much talk of the seven Liberal Democrat abstentions. Of this seven, four were on government business, one had just given birth, another was looking after a seriously ill family member, and there was one true abstention. Also much has been made of Sarah Teather, who voted against. Sarah has supported and campaigned for improving gay rights throughout her political career, however she holds strong Catholic beliefs and so this may have been a step too far for her. The Liberal Democrats are a party of equality and freedom, and we respect people’s points of view. This was a free vote and thus we respect her decision.

Locally in Reading, our Tory MPs voted very differently. Ex Reading Councillor Glenn Goodall said:

“Reading West MP Alok Sharma showed real courage in voting for Equal Marriage rights, but the same cannot be said for Reading East MP Rob Wilson who voted for and against (signifying he abstained). He’d already refused to show his hand at various public meetings and then hid behind an abstention – this is shameful in my opinion”

A look at shows that throughout Rob Wilson’s political career he has mostly voted against improving gay rights.

Overall we can be very proud that we live in a liberal and forward thinking country. Yes there is still a long way to go, but we are travelling in the right direction.

Reading Lib Dems stand up for civil liberties

The Liberal Democrats are unique amongst the 3 main political parties in that our members can and do have a real input into Party policy through our Conferences. At our latest Conference in Gateshead, local campaigner Jenny Woods literally took a stand against the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (or ‘CCDP’), which many Liberal Democrats fear would constitute a serious breach of Civil Liberties.

This was Jenny’s first full speech at Conference and it was written with input from Information Technology experts from around Reading who, regardless of political affiliation, could see the dangers posed to basic rights and freedoms that the CCDP represents as it stands.

In the weeks since Conference, the CCDP has become a national issue. Jenny, who is standing to be a Councillor for Caversham in the May 2012 local elections in Reading, said: “I’m delighted at the positive support I’ve been getting from around Reading on this debate. Reading is home to a high proportion of Information Technology professionals who understand better than many policy makers how the proposals within the CCDP could be abused.

“As a Liberal Democrat, my role is to safeguard civil liberties. That’s why I think it’s critical that Government proposes legislation based on informed professional advice and open public debate rather than the opinions of a narrow selection of Ministers and advisors who may not neccesarily understand the full technological and societal implications of surveillance techniques proposed in the CCDP.”

Jenny’s speech to Conference was recorded and is available below, along with a full transcript.


“Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society.” Those words were written more than 20 years ago and in that time society, and the ways we exercise our freedoms within it, have changed dramatically, and they’ll continue to change in future – but our role remains, we exist to safeguard the rights of citizens in a free society.

That’s why, as Liberal Democrats, we should be concerned by proposals for surveillance of our mobile and online communications. 20yrs ago, who could imagine the different ways in which we’d communicate? but, now that we are, we must safeguard the privacy all of these methods.

In 2006, Labour first proposed the ‘Interception Modernisation Programme’, for central surveillance of everyone’s phone and online communications. It was a serious intrusion into privacy, the technology was unviable and it would have been extremely costly – so the programme was put on hold.

Now that proposal is being resuscitated through what’s called the ‘Communications Capabilities Development Programme’. It says communication companies must store, not just the data they need for business operation, but all other third-party data – that’s things like webmail, posts to discussion boards, Facebook and Twitter – for government reference on demand.

It requires recording of the fact people communicated with each other and to sample at least some of the content of their communication. Now, recording such communications is not currently legal, and it is certainly not Liberal. The Programme needs changes to our laws. So, this amendment sets out our negotiating position as Liberal Democrats against those changes.

The Coalition Agreement says “We will end the storage of email and internet records without good reason”. More fundamentally, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees correspondence is protected by law from arbitrary interference. Correspondence by Facebook messaging is easier for government to interfere with than that written longhand on paper – but that doesn’t make such interference acceptable.

Our rights in digital space should be protected no less than our rights in real space.

As Liberals, arguments based on individual rights should be enough, but there are others. Surveillance databases would be under threat from hackers or data protection neligence. The infrastructure needed is vast and complex – Government doesn’t have a great record of running such projects! and despite this bloated technology, it’s easily bypassed by safe browsing methods, such as those used for internet banking.

In years to come we’ll often have debates like this – technology now gives us the power to do something, should we therefore do it? In this case the answer is, very definitely, “no”. We don’t give police blanket permission to enter every home in the land without a warrant, just on the off-chance a crime is being committed inside, so why should we monitor the communications of every citizen, just in case they do something wrong?

The proposal is illiberal, unworkable and eye-wateringly expensive – the London School of Economics estimated it would cost 12bn pounds.

If you truly want to prevent crime and terrorism:

  • invest that in community cohesion and education;
  • invest it in rehabilitation;
  • but don’t waste it on a white-elephant, black-box surveillance system intruding into the privacy of every innocent person in the country.

Conference, let’s shove this unwanted beast back in its box. Vote to continue upholding our founding role as the party that protects freedoms within a free society, vote for this amendment & vote for the policy motion.

Salter’s defence of Green arrest crosses the line

Reading West Lib Dems Parliamentary Spokesman, Patrick Murray, has criticised Martin Salter after his appearance on Newsnight defending the arrest of Damian Green.

“It is inconceivable that anyone can justify the actions of the Police in arresting a member of the Shadow Cabinet for holding ministers to account.

We can see the ugly underbelly of this increasing authoritarian Government, elected with only a quarter of the adult population’s support.

Salter has enthusiastically supported 42 days detention without trial which is an affront to the founding principles of the British state.

He has enthusiastically supported the expensive, intrusive and ineffective ID card scheme which will do nothing to stop terrorism as the Madrid bombings showed.

Now he is acting as the cheerleader for the arrest of political opponants.

His defence of, and enthusiasm for, an increasingly authoritarian government would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.”

Editor’s Notes:

Damian Green (an ex Reading School pupil) was arrested by the Metropolitan Police at his constituency home on 27 November 2008 for “aiding and abetting misconduct in public office”, in relation to an investigation into unauthorised disclosure of confidential material from within the Home Office.


Abandon your support for crazy ID cards plan,Reading West Lib Dems tell Salter

The Government’s data disaster over child benefit records shows why plans for Identity Cards must be scrapped, say Reading West Liberal Democrats.

Following the revelation that the personal details of 25 million parents and children have been lost by the Government’s Revenue and Customs department (HMRC), and may have fallen into the hands of identity fraudsters, Reading West Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson Patrick Murray has written to Martin Salter MP urging him to withdraw their support for the ID cards scheme and a National Identity Register in which the Government want to store the personal information of everyone in the country.

“The fiasco at HMRC has shown the dangers of the Government holding huge amounts of information about each one of us whilst being slipshod in the way that same information is kept,” said Patrick Murray.

“This whole saga of incompetence has been shocking and families in Reading are now rightly asking whether their personal details are safe.

“The National Identity Register, which the Government are setting up as part of the Identity Card scheme, will hold vastly more information on each and every one of us than Customs and Revenue managed to lose.

“The possibilities for the loss of that information, either accidentally or through illegitimate means must make the Government stop and think again very seriously about their plan to store all the data they can on us on a central register.

“This is a clear illustration of the real dangers of a big brother centralised state. State control of personal identity details is a real threat to our civil liberties. The Government should respond to the anger and now abandon its ID card scheme. It is clear that the Government cannot be trusted to manage effectively mass databases of personal information.

Martin Salter voted for Identity Cards when the scheme went through Parliament despite some Labour MPs taking a principled stand and joining the Liberal Democrats in voting against the Government’s big brother plans.

“But a debacle on this scale must surely give Mr Salter cause to think again. I have written to him calling on him to press the Government to end the Identity Card scheme for good and to ensure that we do not risk a personal data disaster on an even more catastrophic scale.

Editor’s Note: For more information call Patrick Murray on 07891 330778

Upcoming Events

   August  2014 »
Events on August 30, 2014
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    Ends: August 31, 2014 - 12:00 am
    Location: Kings Meadow, Napier Road, Reading, United Kingdom
Events on August 31, 2014
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