This morning, live on air, Nick Clegg effectively said that the Communications Data Bill, the Snoopers’ Charter, was dead. I hope he’s right – and if he is, those campaigning against the bill, including pressure groups Big Brother Watch, the Open Rights Group and Privacy International, and MPs such as Julian Huppert and David Davis, deserve a great deal of credit. Those of us who’ve been campaigning will be holding our breath to see whether it’s really true – because promises like this have been made before, and come to nothing. So what should we do next?
Well, first of all, we should keep up the pressure – and scrutinise the Queen’s Speech with great care, to see what is actually said. There’s still likely to be something in there – we should make sure that it’s the kind of thing that Clegg has promised.
Secondly, we should remember that the existing powers, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) are already excessive and have been subject to significant function creep. We should be pushing for a tightening of those powers – and more clarity about how and when they should be used. Ideally, the ‘small bill’ in the Queen’s Speech should do that – but I won’t be holding my breath.
Thirdly, we should be lobbying all the main political parties to make sure that a ‘reborn’ Snoopers’ Charter isn’t part of their plans – indeed, to get commitments in manifestos (for what they’re worth) that they won’t be planning these.
Fourthly, we should be supporting campaigns in other parts of the world against similarly invasive and damaging laws and plans – from CISPA in the US to the National Security Review plans in Australia onwards. The movement towards universal internet surveillance is a pervasive one, and one that needs fighting at an international level.
Fifthly, we should be looking to have the European Data Retention Directive reviewed – and ideally repealed. This directive, described by Peter Hustinx, the European Data Protection Supervisor as ‘the EU’s most privacy invasive tool’ follows the same kind of logic as the Snoopers’ Charter, though with a slightly different scope. It was passed in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings, and was based on fear – just as the Snoopers’ Charter is based on fear. We need a new approach, a new angle.
The big point for me is to understand why Nick Clegg might be wanting to kill the Snoopers’ Charter. To me, it’s indicative of a gradual changing in people’s attitudes. As I’ve written and talked about before (for example in my ‘privacy-friendly future’ blogs and talks), I think people are waking up to privacy, and starting to understand how much our privacy matters, and how it is being undermined. If privacy is now a politically significant issue – enough to make Nick Clegg stand firm on this – then that bodes well for the future.
All this, however, should be taken with a huge pinch of salt. The battle isn’t over yet – we need to watch Clegg like a hawk, and follow developments very, very closely. I’m cautiously optimistic, however. Let’s hope the rumours of the death of the Snoopers’ Charter have not been exaggerated….