The drip, drip, drip of snooping

First there was RIPA, then ID cards, happily abandoned by the Coalition. The ‘Snoopers’ Charter’, the Data Communications Bill, was scuppered and the EU Data Retention Directive was declared illegal. Not content to leave us alone, the three big parties have struck a behind-closed-door deal to continue to retain and have access to details of everybody’s personal data, despite the ECJ ruling saying precisely that it was the blanket collection of data that was illegal.

This is an open letter to my MP Richard Burden. I sent it at 6.30 on 14 July, hours before the vote was due on the ’emergency’ legislation placed before parliament seven days before the summer recess.

Dear Richard

I’m writing to you today as a constituent and Labour voter to express my very grave concerns about the so-called DRIP Bill being railroaded through parliament in what appears to be a cynical, if not preconceived, attempt to circumvent the ECJ judgement handed down in April on the EU Data Retention Directive.

This is being done without proper scrutiny and in spite of preceding unsuccessful attempts, among them the Draft Communications Data Bill dubbed the Snoopers’ Charter, to arm the government with intrusive, blanket surveillance of the entire population, a statist approach that puts every citizen under the glare of unjustified suspicion.

Aside from there being no valid reason for the emergency process itself, with MPs like yourself being given so little time to read and properly scrutinise the Bill, the trigger for the DRIP Bill (the Data Retention Directive) was struck down as illegal by the ECJ as an infringement of the right to privacy under human rights legislation, was invalidated on ’15 or so fundamental rights grounds’, and has been subject to ‘significant challenge since its inception in 2005’.

Yvette Cooper’s statement to the house on Friday that a solution is necessary because ‘otherwise the police and intelligence agencies will suddenly lose vital information and evidence’ is utterly and absolutely unfounded given the Open Rights Group (ORG) campaign to stop ISPs from retaining our data. ORG says ‘While the government is on thin ice pretending that data retention laws still exist, they have persuaded ISPs to carry on with it.’ The supposed threat to national security is overblown and inflammatory.

According to ORG, the court ruling states that governments cannot compel data to be retained on a blanket basis and that someone independent, such as a regulator or a judge, must supervise police access.’ Further, ORG lists these five myths, which they expand on their website (see below):

  1. “This is an emergency”
  2. “This is not an extension of powers, it’s restoring the status quo”
  3. “It’s the only way we can catch criminals”
  4. “There is a sunset clause”
  5. “The Bill includes concessions that take into account the CJEU ruling”

Ms Cooper is, however, rightly concerned that legislation published just seven days before the recess ‘risks undermining confidence for issues as important as this to be left until the last minute and rushed through on an emergency basis.’

The so-called promised safeguards and concessions purportedly secured by the Lib Dems were found to be largely absent from secondary legislation released late Friday: the restriction on who would be able to use RIPA was entirely absent, underlining the function creep of RIPA; there is no guarantee that the ‘sunset clause’, effective long after any Lib Dem influence could further influence legislation, is not in fact functionally redundant. The breadth and depth of the surveillance that this Bill, in combination with RIPA, would not only allow but effectively normalise is of deep concern to anyone who cares about civil liberties and the relationship of the state to its citizens.

Liberty says MPs are attempting to pass this legislation to simply maintain the status quo. They say ‘The status quo…is unlawful, as the EU Court of Justice confirmed in April when it said that blanket data retention was a breach of our basic human rights’, enabling ‘the expansion of the UK’s interception empire, with overseas companies forced to build interception capabilities into products and infrastructure.’

Digital Rights Ireland say: ‘It is unprecedented in Europe for a law to be struck down so widely. Data retention has been rejected unanimously by every supreme court or constitutional court to consider it – at last count being held unconstitutional in Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Romania, and Slovenia as well as by the European Court of Justice.’

I attach the joint Liberty, Privacy International, Open Rights Group, Big Brother Watch, Article 19 and English PEN briefing on the fast-track Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill. In it, you will find that public authorities submitted sufficient communications data requests in 2013 to prompt the ‘new Interception of Communications Commissioner to ask his inspectors to take a critical look at the scale of requests due to fears of “significant institutional overuse of the Part 1 Chapter 2 powers”‘ of RIPA. Although law enforcement agencies account for almost 90% of these requests, ‘barring local authority access, there is no requirement for independent prior judicial authorisation when communications data is sought by public bodies.’

As you are doubtless painfully aware, the anti-Muslim atmosphere that took shape during the Blair years, one we addressed on my doorstep in 2010 as a potential ‘deal-breaker’ between me and Labour, set the backdrop for populist propaganda on mass surveillance legislation, which is held by many states to be superfluous, harmful and even unconstitutional.

It’s incredibly disappointing to see Labour supporting the Coalition in their determination to ignore a ruling on human rights. With the glut of revelations about GCHQ ignoring our right to privacy, it is particularly galling to see MPs collude to push through legislation like this in the face of the international outrage over digital snooping. I am thoroughly disappointed that so far only two MPs have stated publicly their intention to vote against this Bill – Tom Watson and Caroline Lucas. The protection of my human rights is left in the hands of third sector campaign groups, whose ability to challenge these insidious laws is to be further curtailed come September when the Lobbying Bill’s ‘regulated period’ kicks in.

I urge you to vote against this latest attempt to extend the prying eye of the state into normal, everyday activity. There is no justification, moral, legal or practical, for me not to be able to go about my life without fear of state surveillance. Effective prevention and prosecution of criminals does not, and should not, depend on every citizen, regardless of a lack of legitimate suspicion, being constantly monitored as a potential paedophile or suicide bomber. It is insulting to voters’ collective intelligence to proclaim these powers are necessary or proportionate.

Can you please confirm receipt of this email and let me know how you intend to vote please?


Further info/sources:

I’ve used several sources to formulate my view, some of which can be found below. Please excuse any plagiarising on the grounds of a distinct lack of time:

Peter Hustinx, the European Data Protection Supervisor, as recently as 2010 called the EU directive ‘…without doubt the most privacy-invasive instrument ever adopted by the EU in terms of scale and the number of people it affects.’

Digital Rights Ireland

Open Rights Group (ORG) calls the Bill a ‘stitch-up’. Their campaign for ISPs to stop storing our data can be found here: Their myth list is at

Ian Dunt, editor of, specialising in civil liberties, democracy, free speech and social justice, calls DRIP a ‘Snoopers’ Charter by the back door’.

Mike Harris, Campaign Director of Don’t Spy On Us, calls it a ‘cozy consensus not within the political parties, but by Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron alone, who fear public opinion’.–its-a-crossparty-stitchup-9601272.html

David Allen Green, writer and lawyer based in Birmingham and London and legal commentator at, says that ‘Any MP who fobs you off with #DRIP being “clarifying” legislation either has not read the Bill, does not understand the Bill, or is lying.’

Paul Bernal, lecturer in IT, intellectual property, and media law at the University of East Anglia and author of Internet Privacy Rights, says that ‘even if you’re in favour of extended surveillance powers’, this is a ‘shabby process for a shady law’, one that ‘without proper scrutiny, causes worry!’