This week Battersea CLP passed a robust motion on data surveillance. Proposed by Battersea CLP member and LCHR supporter Dan Garrigan, the motion came after the legislation nicknamed DRIP (Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act) was rushed through Parliament in the absence of proper scrutiny. Concerned with potential indiscriminate use of the bill, its lack of transparency, and scarce accountability, Dan said on his blog:
“Anything that fundamentally disrupts the balance between the individual’s right to privacy and national security must be very carefully examined and the onus must surely fall on the state to demonstrate why further impingements of our liberty are necessary.”
The motion below is an important contribution to the debate on data surveillance and helps to sustain the pressure on the Government for a revision of the enshrined legislation.
CLP motion against mass surveillance
In 2013, the whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the existence of a mass surveillance programme operated by the UK government. It gives the government access to information such as who we send messages to and which websites we browse. This surveillance is not targeted at suspected criminals or terrorists, but rather at the entire population.
In July 2014, Parliament passed the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIP), entrenching aspects of mass surveillance into UK law. It passed with little scrutiny or debate.
This CLP notes:
- Information about our communications and internet use can reveal intimate details about our lives, including our health, legal and financial affairs, and relationships.
- There is a distinction between carrying out surveillance against an individual suspected of a crime or involvement in terrorism, and mass surveillance carried out against the whole population regardless of innocence or guilt.
- There is potential for abuse or misuse of surveillance powers. In recent years the security services and police have been accused of spying on or infiltrating groups of political activists, students’ unions, human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, charities like UNICEF, unions, and prominent individuals in the Labour Party like the Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan and Doreen Lawrence.
- The public are sceptical about mass surveillance. A poll from May 2014 shows that 88 percent of people believe their phone records, for example, should be kept private.
- The stated intention of the Conservative Party is to increase mass surveillance with further legislation in 2016 when DRIP expires.
- There is a need for the Labour Party to demonstrate it can responsibly balance privacy and security.
- The way DRIP was passed with little scrutiny or debate risks undermining public confidence in the security services and Parliament.
This CLP resolves:
- Any legislation dealing with an issue as complex and ethically challenging as data surveillance should always be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny and debate, and it is regrettable that DRIP was not.
- Surveillance is a vital tool in tackling terrorism and crime, but it should only be used if there is reasonable suspicion of the subject’s involvement in such activity.
- The Snowden revelations have shown there is a need for greater oversight of the security services to ensure they have the public’s confidence. Authorisation of surveillance by a judge would also be a helpful step in ensuring proper accountability.
If you are a Labour member and would like to propose a similar motion then please contact [email protected].