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.