Paddy Ashdown: Snoopers’ charter breaches the coalition deal

Writing today in The Times, former Liberal Democrat leader and former Secret Intelligence Service man Paddy Ashdown writes:

Liberals accept, subject to safeguards decided by Parliament, that the government has a right to intercept the private communications of its citizens where it is necessary for national security and in the pursuit of serious crime, and that these powers should keep pace with the development of communications.

But, as Nick Clegg has said, there must be safeguards, too. Any extension of these powers should be strictly proportionate to the threat…

Any exercise of these powers must be subject to a warrant and strictly targeted at individuals where there are good grounds for believing that they are involved in serious law breaking or are a threat to the security of the State. We have always resisted a “fishing trip” approach by the security services, where they seek the right to gather information on innocent citizens merely on the ground that there may be some among them who are committing serious crime.

The right to intercept private communications is, therefore, justified only where it is based on specific evidence and applied to an individual. It cannot be justified by treating us as a nation of suspects. It cannot be justified on the ground that the information gathered might be useful to the State at some unspecified date in the future…

We should update our current interception laws to deal with the new ways criminals and terrorists communicate. But not at the expense of parting company with our principles.

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