Friday, 6 April 2012

An open letter to Tim Farron on the surveillance society

This morning, an open letter to Lib Dem Party President Tim Farron was published on Lib Dem Voice and I was one of the signatories. It was on the subject of the Home Secretary's reported plans to introduce more government snooping on personal emails and the surveillance society.

The full text of the letter is as follows:

Dear Tim,

We understand that the leaked policy on RIPA internet surveillance is now being reviewed more thoroughly, rather than rushed into the Queen’s speech. As such we would like you, as our president, to convey the following thoughts to appropriate Liberal Democrat ministers.

The Home Secretary wrote in the Sun on Tuesday that “Only suspected terrorists, paedophiles or serious criminals will be investigated.” This is akin to saying “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about.” If the hacking scandal and ongoing Leveson inquiry has taught us anything, it is that argument is demonstrably false.

At first hacking was tolerated by the public when it was only celebrities and politicians who were victims. It was only after it was exposed that private individuals were hacked that there was public outrage. Even the Queen’s own police protection sold information about her to the News of the World. If our head of state cannot be safeguarded from corrupt police officers, what chance has the rest of us got?

This is our fear over these leaked proposals; we believe that extending universal, rather than targeted internet surveillance powers to the police, exposes innocent citizens to corrupt sections of authority. We agree with Julian Huppert MP when he argues that the police should only be allowed to access private internet usage when they have obtained a “named, specific and time-limited warrant” from a judge or minister.

In a February 2011 interview with the Guardian Nick Clegg said: “You should not trust government – full stop. The natural inclination of government is to hoard power and information; to accrue power to itself in the name of the public good.” And later: Clegg says the restoration of liberty is ongoing, and urges campaigners to “hold the government’s feet to the fire”. We are attempting to do just that with this letter.

Surely an important part of our party’s mission is to defend and protect the civil rights of our fellow citizens, and if we fail, our party’s liberal identity will be put at grave risk. We urge our ministers to heed our call – block these illiberal proposals and lead the charge for reform of RIPA to ensure our citizens enjoy the fair, free and open society we seek to build and safeguard.


I'm delighted that Tim has responded. You can see his thoughts here.

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