The latest on the Snoopers' Charter

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told LBC that the Communications Data Bill was not going to happen. But is that the end of the story?

by Charlotte Henry on 1 May 2013 14:33

The group assembled in Methodist Central Hall in Westminster on Monday probably thought that they would be coming together to rage against the growing snooper state.

Then, last week, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told LBC that the Communications Data Bill was not going to happen, and the world looks a lot brighter for the various freedom fighters on this sunny afternoon.

The group had come together to launch an Open Rights Group report, called Digital Surveillance, that brings together people from across civil society who are united against the Snoopers' Charter.

The various authors were presenting their thoughts, and between them highlighted the host of issues that still remain, despite Nick Clegg's welcome recent intervention.

Many in the room felt that there was a huge lack of knowledge and understanding of technical issues in the civil service and parliament, not to mention the media that is supposed to scrutinise them.

They also highlighted the fact that people are broadly ignorant of the level of data that can be acquired, including the unpacking of data to rebuild inbox screens.

Freelance journalist Duncan Campbell described the "ignorance of home office officials" whom he said were making "a pitch for unregulated power" with the snoopers' charter.

Angela Patrick, head of human rights policy at Justice, pointed out that a key problems is the number of agencies that can get their hands on our personal data once it has been collected, and called for this to be reduced.

This was followed up by Richard Clayton, who pointed out that it is becoming ever easier to use cross-referenced data to assemble a picture of people and where they go, such as protests or whether they leak information.

In an age where technology should mean we have freedom to express ourselves like never before, the intimidation that this kind of data collection can bring can actually limit that fundamental right.

There were other speakers, but the most important point was made by Big Brother Watch director Nick Pickles, who rightly said that the current victory had been one mainly of politics: in Nick Clegg saying no, the positions of the Conservative and Labour parties in favour of such authoritarian legislation had not fundamentally shifted.

There is a much bigger issue at stake for those of us who do not want to live in a technical surveillance state. The broader battle, that just because it is possible to do things it doesn't mean the state should do them, continues unabated.

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