This is the speech I made in the Lords second reading of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers
“When Tim Berners-Lee famously typed his message ‘this is for everyone’ at the start of the Olympic ceremony in 2012 I don’t think he could’ve imagined just how prescient that statement would be and why. Tim has always striven for an open, transparent and universal web where individuals are able to have private conversations and assume complex identities. Nowadays his Olympic optimism could be read instead as a statement of the irrevocable powers of governments and commercial organisations to know everything people are doing in the digital world.
I do not think that many of us who were around at the beginning of the web’s
development imagined that so quickly the landscape would look as it does today. I certainly thought that as the web became more mainstream it would lead to an opening up of enterprise, an opening up of policy-making and an opening up of the monopolies that had characterised industry previously. The power for individuals to disrupt the status quo and create better services both public and private felt significant. Instead it is remarkable how the web has become dominated by a handful of companies and how quickly the freedoms that were so energising are in danger of being eroded.
In this context, I would like to talk about three aspects of the bill – firstly, the digital skills needed within parliament to achieve proper scrutiny. Secondly, the timing of the sunset clause and finally the nuances of clause four.
My lords I spend a great deal of my working life encouraging large organisations to embrace the digital world and in particular to embrace the speed with which technologies enable change. I am generally on the side of pace and am often mocked for setting unfeasibly short periods in which to deliver projects. However, even I think the timeframes for this bill are alarming.
I agree with the Web Foundation who said
” we fundamentally disagree with the lack of consultation and the speed with which the Bill will be rushed through. Full and frank public debate that informs the legislative process should have occurred by now – after all, these issues have been making headlines for over a year and the relevant ECJ judgment was delivered in April.”
Putting aside whether it is proper parliamentary process, this rush seems to me to highlight an issue of growing importance that we face as parliamentarians. I consider myself fairly digitally literate and yet I have struggled to understand the nuances of the technologies that are informing this legislation.
Whatever your political persuasion and whatever you feel about the subjects, I am sure we can all agree that these are complex areas and they are understandably unfamiliar to many of the parliamentarians who are being asked to consider them. I struggled to assimilate the different areas addressed in the bill and I feel as though I had a head start.
Through no fault of their own parliamentarians may well be making judgements on areas that are rapidly evolving and where technology is changing the art of the possible.
For example, ways of intercepting and recording data that do not exist today will undoubtedly be invented and many products are launching now that change the boundaries again. How do wearable technologies such as google glass, that collect data in a new way fit into the picture?
It therefore makes me extremely nervous that bills which require such deep technical expertise are given so little time.
The digital capability of the other place and your Lordships house is something that I believe will become more and more profoundly significant. All legislation will soon have aspects of technology at their core and our ability to scrutinise effectively will rely on a deeper understanding than currently exists.
As somebody from the digital sector it is also disappointing to watch as legislation that directly affects the sector is so cursorily debated – it only goes to further people’s belief that neither house understands the modern world or cares about their digital lives.
It is a tough problem to address but could I suggest to the minister that it would be interesting to consider a review of our own skills that could lead to some actions to improve them?
This lack of time to scrutinise and consider the bill is what, to me, makes the sunset clause so vital and brings me to my second point. If debate about these issues is seen as important as the government reassuringly claim it is, why would a sunset clause not come into force much more quickly than after two and a half years?
The pace of technological change is so great that to be certain of anything two years out is brave and the questions under discussion are becoming more not less important to citizens. Like many MPs, many in the technology community including the founder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales are calling for a six month sunset clause and this would seem to me extremely sensible. I would like to understand from the noble lord the minister why this idea has been rejected.
My final point is on the specifics of clause 4 of the bill. There has already been much discussion of this clause and I would very much appreciate further clarification from the minister. As I understand it this clause is seeking to preserve the status quo. And yet it is preserving a status quo that has never been in the law. It is a status quo which – read in conjunction with section 8(4) of RIPA – would allow for the blanket interception of all data from international technology companies meaning in effect that all of an individuals activity online is accessible to government. I am not clear why in an age where all data CAN be collected all data SHOULD be collected. Why is the digital world deemed so dangerous? We require reasonable suspicion and an individual search warrant in order to enter someone’s home why cannot the equivalent be true online?
No one would suggest that, where appropriate, governments should not be able to target individuals about whom they have suspicions. the security of citizens is paramount. I have certainly felt reassured that where necessary the security services have the ability to track an individual who may pose a threat using all of the new platforms available.
However I believe this clause builds on a modus operandi that has been going on for too long without clarity or transparency and because it HAS been happening it does not mean it should go on happening. In some ways it could be argued that at least this clause puts a legal framework around something that, as the Home Secretary herself has said, was just assumed by government before, but at least lets be honest about the extent of these powers, their effects and then lets debate them.
When the Snowden revelations broke, President Obama set up an expert panel to examine oversight of the security services – this showed how far the political discourse in the UK lagged behind that of the US as no such steps were taken here. This panel looked into the NSA’s claims about the necessity of data gathering and found that only one case was solved by their bulk collection of phone records – itself a small money laundering incident.
Here I must declare an interest as a member of an independent panel just set up by the deputy prime minister, administered by RUSI and asked to propose a new framework for oversight of our own security services.
Allegations that GCHQ and the NSA undermined encryption should alarm anyone who trusts the web with their medical, financial or personal records so I am delighted to serve on this panel which includes some other members of your lordships house. But in light of the bill before us, it seems somewhat peripheral and without the ability to have tangible impact.
This year, as many lords are aware is the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web. It is essential that we do not charge headlong into decisions about the relationship between citizen and state in the new world that will influence the next twenty five years.
My lords I am an optimist but I must confess I am uncharacteristically depressed. The web I want seems to me to be disappearing. This bill could have been an extraordinary opportunity to instigate a wide ranging and sophisticated review about the future of this extraordinary invention – one that carefully considered the implications of data collection, the role of surveillance, the trade off between privacy and security. Instead we are being catapulted into legislation that leaves little room for manoeuvre and from which, with the best will in the world it will be hard to row back from. I sincerely hope we dont regret it and I very much look forward to hearing the ministers response.”