Cowardice meets arrogance in UK surveillance stitch up

The leadership of the major UK political parties are set to ram through a sweeping surveillance bill without debate or study. It’s a perfect storm of cowardice and arrogance, and it comes at a price. Cory Doctorow wants you to do something about it.

Read the rest

UK Parliament considers allowing secret courts to issue orders to seize reporters' notebooks

The Deregulation Bill is coming before the UK House of Commons on Monday, and among its many "red-tape-cutting" provisions is one that would allow the courts to grant the police secret hearings in which they could secure orders to seize reporters' notebooks, hard-drives and other confidential material. No one representing the reporters would be allowed to see the evidence in these "closed material procedures."

How the hell did this happen? Sadly, it was absolutely predictable.

When Parliament passed a law permitting secret trials where people who were adverse to the government in court proceedings would not be allowed to see the government's evidence, nor have their lawyers review it, those of us who sounded the alarm were accused of hysterics. The Libdem leadership whipped their MPs on the issue, ordering them to vote for it. Many of us in the Libdem party left over the issue, and the party grandees patronised us on the way out, saying that we didn't understand that the Libdems had put in place "crucial changes," and that somehow, there were changes that could paper over the naked fact of a law permitting secret trials in Britain.

The Libdems' cowardice over secret trials removed any claim they had to being "the party of liberty." Anyone in the party leadership today who expresses surprise at the expansion of the doctrine of secret courts is either an idiot or a bad liar. When future journalists who report on government wrongdoing have their notebooks seized based on secret evidence, the trigger will be pulled by the government of the day -- but the gun was loaded by the Libdems in 2013.

The other parties were crucial to the creation of secret courts, but neither Labour nor the Tories have ever claimed to be "the party of liberty." No one mistook Labour -- creators of RIPA and architects of the world's most advanced surveillance state -- for a party that believed in freedom. Indeed, the Libdems' victories in the last national elections are in large part thanks to widespread disgust with Labour's authoritarianism. And as for Tories, everyone knew that the Nasty Party would happily gut civil liberties faster than you could say "G4S."

The Libdems promised to be a party that would, at last, stand up for freedom. Instead, they sold out out, and we're going to be paying the price for many years to come. There is a world of difference between objecting to the creation of secret courts and the expansion of secret courts. Now that secret courts are a fact of life in the UK, their expansion will always be on the horizon. As soon as "the party of liberty" endorsed the idea that justice could be served when the government could keep secrets from the people who were seeking redress of its wrongs, they set the stage for a mushrooming, toxic doctrine of state secrecy that overrules foundational democratic principles that have been in place since the overthrow of the Star Chamber in 1641.

It is an everlasting shame to the party, and makes me embarrassed to have endorsed them and raised funds for them. Better that they never won a single seat than to have brought us to this pass in British politics in the name of "liberty."

Read the rest

Proposed EU Data Protection amendment would open the door for secret funneling of Europeans' data to the NSA

Here's an important consideration for Europeans in light of the NSA dragnet surveillance revealed by the recent leaks: some of the amendments to the controversial new EU Data Protection Regulation would open the door to the secret transfer of EU citizens' private information to US intelligence agencies. The UK Liberal Democrat MEP Baroness Ludford has advocated amendments that do this. The Open Rights Group and principled UK LibDems are calling on the Baroness to withdraw her support for these amendments and support transparency and accountability in the handling of sensitive personal information of Europeans.

For instance, the Baroness is behind amendment number 1210.

This removes the right to know if your data might be transferred to a third country or international organisation. It does this by deleting the following bit of the proposed Regulation:

Article 14 – paragraph 1 – point g
(g) where applicable, that the controller intends to transfer to a third country or international organisation and on the level of protection afforded by that third country or international organisation by reference to an adequacy decision by the Commission;

It hardly needs spelling out given the recent news about PRISM and state surveillance, but knowing which companies or countries your data might be moved to is likely to increasingly be a fundamental consideration for someone deciding whether to share personal data.

Baroness Ludford amendment - opening the door to FISAAA?

LibDems leave over support for secret trials; I resign from the party

Philippe Sands, a professor of international law and prominent practicing lawyer, has resigned from the UK Liberal Democrats party. He is the third well-known party member to leave the LibDems this month. Dinah Rose, a respected human rights lawyer who represented Guantánamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, quit last week, and Jo Shaw, who ran for the LibDems in 2010 resigned from the party after giving a speech at the party conference in Brighton last weekend.

These principled people have quit over the LibDems' support of the "justice and security bill," which establishes a system of secret courts in Britain in which people who sue the government over torture and kidnapping will not be able to see the government evidence offered against them. The LibDem leadership supported this law, whipped their MPs to vote for it, and all but seven of the sitting LibDem MPs did, despite the enormous public outcry against it, including a condemnation from Lord Neuberger, the country's most senior judge.

The Lords -- a chamber full of senior lawyers and judges -- has rejected this legislation and sent it back, calling for a system of safeguards to be put in place before upsetting the principle of open justice going back to the Magna Carta. Parliament has ripped up the Lords' amendments, refusing even the most basic of safeguards in this legislation.

We voted for the LibDems to be the "party of liberty," but they've been anything but. With this latest betrayal of party principles, the leadership has scuttled any credibility it had left. There is simply no case for this measure. The proponents of the law act as though there is a flood of baseless claims of torture and kidnapping that the government has had to settle in order to avoid revealing the secrets of Britain's spies. The truth is that the government has had to apologise for lying about its role in illegal torture and kidnapping, and that most of its victims are unable to get justice even today. Indeed, we don't know for sure that the practice has stopped, and we can't, because we've had more than a decade of "war on terror" nonsense that says that the public must be spied upon at all times, but that politicians and police must be able to operate in unaccountable secrecy.

Here is some of Professor Sands's resignation, published in the Guardian today:

This part of the bill is a messy and unhappy compromise. It is said to have been demanded by the US (which itself has stopped more or less any case that raises 'national security' issues from reaching court), on the basis that it won't share as much sensitive intelligence information if the UK doesn't rein in its courts. Important decisions on intelligence taken at the instigation of others are inherently unreliable. We remember Iraq, which broke a bond of trust between government and citizen.

There is no floodgate of cases, nothing in the coalition agreement, nor any widely supported call for such a draconian change. There is every chance that, if the bill is adopted, this and future governments will spend years defending the legislation in UK courts and Strasbourg. There will be claims that it violates rights of fair trial under the Human Rights Act and the European convention (no doubt giving rise to ever-more strident calls from Theresa May and Chris Grayling that both should be scrapped). Other countries with a less robust legal tradition favouring the rule of law and an independent judiciary will take their lead from the UK, as they did with torture and rendition.

I accept that there may be times when the country faces a threat of such gravity and imminence that the exceptional measure of closed material proceedings might be needed. This is not such a time, and the bill is not such a measure. Under conditions prevailing today, this part of the bill is not pragmatic or proportionate. It is wrong in principle, and will not deliver justice. It will be used to shield governmental wrongdoing from public and judicial scrutiny under conditions that are fair and just. The bill threatens greater corrosion of the rights of the individual in the UK, in the name of "national security".

I've read each of these peoples' resignations with growing unease. I am a member of the LibDems, raised funds for them in the last election, campaigned for them, endorsed them, and voted for them.

I cannot, in good conscience, remain a member or supporter of the LibDems. There comes a point where the broken promises and corruption overwhelms the pretty words in the party manifesto. Deeds speak louder than words. The LibDems are the party of talking about liberty and voting in tyranny.

I resign from the party.


Update: Mark Thomspon sez, "Me and a Labour friend Emma Burnell record a weekly podcast called 'House of Comments' which is an informal chat about the week's (mainly UK) politics. I thought you might be interested in the latest one. I couldn't make it but Emma chatted to former Lib Dem Jo Shaw and current Lib Dem Linda Jack about Secret Courts and having edited it yesterday I think we got some very interesting insights into what has been going on behind the scenes on this issue."

This is a fascinating analysis of the bubble of unreality that the LibDem leadership now inhabits.


Philippe Sands quits Lib Dems in protest at support for secret courts