The Liberal Democrat conference voted unanimously in favour of a motion to uphold and extend British civil liberties in Gateshead last weekend. Delegates also unanimously backed an amendment, moved by Aldes committee member Dr Jenny Woods, aimed specifically at proposals in the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP), asking the government to guarantee that any state interception of personal communications could only occur with specific and time-limited warrants.
In 2008, the Times revealed plans (paywall) by the Labour government to increase state surveillance of electronic communications, via a series of measures under the Intercept Modernisation Programme (IMP). This would have mandated content service providers to give up their records to a centralised database. In the event, the programme was never realised in the face of public and political opposition over the costs, feasibility and concerns over individual privacy.
In 2010, Lib Dem MP for Cambridge Dr Julian Huppert challenged the Prime Minister over accusations that the Home Office was investigating implementing certain features of the IMP as part of the CCDP. Although Cameron stressed that there were no plans to hold data in a central database, he did not deny that the Home Office was looking to ask companies to keep more extensive records of their customers’ activities.
This Spring, conference clearly stated their opposition to expansion of state interception of personal communications, backing the right to privacy by:
a) ensuring that there shall be no interception of telephone calls, SMS messages, social media, internet or any other communications without named, specific and time-limited warrants;
b) guaranteeing that any communications data kept by service providers in accordance with the EU Data Retention Directive are kept securely by the service providers, and that they be only released to government bodies with strict and strengthened safeguards;
c) ensuring that service providers are not mandated by law to collect communications data by any method that would also provide access to content information, unless specifically authorised by a warrant;
d) ensuring that service providers are not mandated by law to collect third-party communications data for non-business purposes by any method;
e) renegotiating the EU Data Retention Directive and changing how it is implemented into UK law, to provide a better balance towards privacy.
Moving the amendment, Jenny Woods said:
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.
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 and vote for the policy motion.
Aldes will also be taking a stand to the Open Rights Group’s conference on 24 March 2012 to support their campaign against the CCDP.