Political

An open letter to Jeremy Browne MP on civil liberties… Part 1: The failed regulator

Dear Jeremy,

I doubt that in amongst all the ludicrously large number of issues that pass across the desk of a minister, and a Home Office one no less, you will have noticed a small victory I scored over the Home Office recently.

But I hope you’ll give a pause for thought to the implications of the ruling the Information Commissioner made in my favour over the Home Office (decision notice reference FS50469527).

Partly it’s because of what it says about the never-quite-dead proposals for a huge expansion of monitoring of our online activity. Partly it’s because of what the case reveals about the Home Office approach to freedom of information matters.

The prominence given to investigations into the hacking of voicemail messages by or on behalf of journalists has overshadowed another apparent widespread abuse by or at the instigation of the media: the illegal access of mobile phone data, such as their location.

Yet there is a convincing case that the latter was widespread and that it involved regular breaking of the safeguards which are meant to be in place under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) – and those are the very same safeguards which are meant to be protect us against abuse of the new powers the Home Office keeps on pushing for in the never-quite-dead Draft Communications Data Bill. (For details, including the evidence see #6 in this post.)

Yet despite the evidence that the safeguards repeatedly failed on a wide scale, the regulator who should be concerned if the police and others were doing just this has, as far as I can ascertain, taken no steps to investigate, no steps to improve the system as a result and has shown no interest in the problem.

And who is the regulator who is meant to protect us under the Draft Communications Data Bill? The very same. Even though it is a regulator who has failed spectacularly, in repeated ways.

So strengthening the regulator and fixing that sort of problem has been high up the list of things your civil servants have been telling you must be done in any Communications Data Bill? I think we both know the answer to that.

Yet your concerns should go further than just the regulator. They should encompass not only this omission by your own civil servants but also the way they make outlandish and repeatedly changing claims about what is necessary to protect national security and the fight against crime.

But that’s a matter for part 2.

 

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