Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Open letter to Julian Sturdy re: Investigatory Powers Bill

Dear Mr Sturdy,

Thank you for your letter of 29 February regarding the Investigatory Powers Bill.  As I am sure you are aware a new version of the bill has been tabled, which in many ways is even worse than the previous version of the bill, and fails to take account of most of the criticisms from the three parliamentary committees that have looked at it.

While you may be happy that the current government will not abuse those powers (and hopefully you will be correct) experience shows that once these powers are available they will be abused.  We have seen this again and again with security related acts, and acts that infringe on civil liberties, from governments of all parties.  It is therefore essential that this Bill has the right balance between the need to investigate (potential) criminal activity and civil rights. 

Others have more knowledge and experience and will produce more detailed criticisms than I can, but here are just some of the problems with the new version of the bill:
The bill proposes collecting far more information than any other country deems necessary in terms of browser history;
  • The Bill endorses GCHQ's existing extensive and intrusive surveillance powers that were revealed by Edward Snowden, rather than rolling them back. This includes powers of bulk collection and analysis of data collected by tapping Internet cables, ie. Tempora. GCHQ should concentrate on targeting suspected criminals, not collecting information on law-abiding citizens.
  • The Bill includes the security agencies' powers to break into our laptops and mobile phones, including worrying new powers for non-targeted 'mass hacking', which may mean, for example, getting Apple to push out a compromised update to lots of phones. There can be no justification for mass hacking of computers, indeed Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights specifically states “1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.” Hacking computers of innocent people, which the bill would allow, is clearly in breach of this.
  • Requiring companies to issue compromised security is bad for all of us.  We have enough problems with hacking as it is, and it would not take criminal elements long to exploit these weaknesses, for little or no demonstrable benefit.
  • There is a lack of judicial oversight.  Again, whilst you may be happy that the current government will not abuse these powers (and that is naïve as all previous governments have) the bill needs to think about what future governments might do too.

In short while the revised bill addresses some concerns in other important respects it is even worse, and most of the issues identified by the parliamentary committees have yet to be addressed.

I am therefore asking you to write to the minister expressing your concern and demanding that he addresses all the issues raised by the committees about the bill.

I hope that you will be unable to support the bill in its current form.

Best wishes


PS to save on postage and paper in austerity Britain I am perfectly happy to receive responses by email.

Tom Franklin

4 Frazer Court
YO30 5FH

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