11 April 2012

Clegg responds to my email to him on internet snooping...

... or at least his Correspondence Assistant does.

Dear Mr Falchikov,

Thank you very much for contacting Nick Clegg about the Government’s proposals on communications data. I am replying to letters and emails on his behalf. This is an issue that has clearly generated a lot of interest, and I would like to try to clarify the situation.

Liberal Democrats have a long and proud record of fighting to protect our civil liberties. We firmly opposed Labour’s illiberal legislation while in opposition, and can be proud of having repealed much of this while in Coalition. Since entering government in May 2010 we have scrapped Labour’s costly and intrusive ID card scheme, reduced detention without charge, scrapped control orders, ended child detention for immigration purposes, and restored rights to peaceful protest. This is a record on civil liberties of which we can be proud.

There has been a lot of speculation on the proposals, and much of it has been inaccurate.

Firstly, it should be made clear that the Government will not be able to access at will the content of emails, facebook messages, or any other communications data. Currently, the police or intelligence services are only able to access the content of communications data with a warrant issued by the Home Secretary, and this will not change. There will be no weakening of the current safeguards in place, and there absolutely will be no centralised database of communications data, as proposed by Labour in 2006.

However, Liberal Democrats are clear that even the current safeguards must be strengthened, to ensure that every person’s data is protected with the utmost security. That is why Nick has made it clear that not only will any new proposals have the “highest possible safeguards”, but that the Government will review existing protections as well. It is also why Party President Tim Farron MP has said that there “must be absolutely no question of universal internet surveillance” and that “if we think this is a threat to a free and liberal society… this just simply must not happen.”

The full proposals have not yet been released but the motivation is to ensure only that we maintain the current capacity of the police and security services by keeping pace with the use of new communications technology, not to extend powers any further. Nick has made clear that the proposals will not be “rammed through Parliament”, but will be subjected to proper scrutiny and debate. Open Parliamentary hearings will be held to examine draft clauses of any legislation.

I can assure you that Liberal Democrats take issues concerning our civil liberties very seriously, and that Nick will be following this matter closely.

Thank you again for contacting Nick about this important issue, and thank you for all of your support for the Party. I hope that we can count on your continued support, which is extremely valuable to us.

Best wishes,
Office of Nick Clegg MP

Apart from its generic nature it is interesting that those at the top of the party are still clearly pedalling the line about 'no centralised database of communications data' which has been conclusively debunked after the party initial panic response that wheeled out Lynne Featherstone to attack various straw men.

The lesson is clear - Clegg's office continues to be under resourced - both intellectually and in political campaigning resource. Internal communications with members - although getting better is still desultory. And the party's special advisors are in the main pointless - simply regurgitating the civil service line to ministers and the party, rather than the other way round.

Clegg hasn't got much longer to sort his operation out - the question is does he recognise there is a problem in the first place?

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