Lauri Love and the potential civil law “backdoor” for obtaining encryption keys

10th May 2016

This is an “explainer” post about a potentially significant court decision being handed down today on whether the UK State can use civil law as a legal “backdoor” for obtaining encryption keys.

The case:  Lauri Love v National Crime Agency

The venue: Westminster Magistrates’ Court, from 1000 hrs today

The claim: An application under section 1 of the Police (Property) Act 1897 for recovery of computer equipment seized by the National Crime Agency – note this is an example of a civil matter being dealt with by a Magistrates’ Court.

The procedural stage: The application is still pre-trial, and the overall application is set down for a trial hearing on 28 July 2016.

Today’s decision: Today the presiding judge District Judge Tempia will make a decision on whether Lauri Love be “directed” at this stage to provide an encryption key as part of the civil claim, and before the trial.

This is because the National Crime Agency, the “defendant” in this claim, is insisting that the key be handed over before the application be tried and a decision made to return the equipment.

Why this matters: The statutory regime for requests for encryption keys (and encrypted data) is under Part III of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).

The state agency – in this case the National Crime Agency – would serve a “section 49” notice, and if a valid section 49 notice is not complied with, then the recipient of the notice can face prosecution under section 53.

The recipient, however, has the protections of the safeguards of section 55 and the protections of the detailed (fifty-odd page) Code of Practice.

By requesting a direction as part of the civil application, the National Crime Agency is seeking to sidestep the RIPA scheme and effectively circumvent the section 55 safeguards and the protections of the Code of Practice.

The extradition context: Lauri Love is facing extradition to the United States.  The United States indictments are at Lauri Love’s website.  The extradition application is also being heard by Westminster Magistrates’ Court, but those are separate and distinct legal proceedings.

This civil claim is self-contained and is not directly relevant to the extradition.

The earlier section 49 notice: Lauri Love has also been already served with a section 49 notice, in February 2014, and did not provide the requested information.   The National Crime Agency did not continue with the RIPA process.


Many of the coercive and intrusive powers given to the state under RIPA are balanced by safeguards and protections against abuse of those powers.

The powers and the checks on them should be seen as a package.

By seeking to use directions in a civil claim to achieve the same aim, where the safeguards and protections against abuse will not apply (and which would be decided on a lower standard of proof – section 53 has the criminal standard, whilst a direction in a civil case would (of course) have the civil standard) then the National Crime Agency are departing from what RIPA intended.

If the National Crime Agency want the encryption key then they should follow the RIPA statutory scheme and not try to get round it.

Instead, the National Crime Agency are asking the courts to construct an civil law “backdoor” for obtaining encryption keys (and encrypted data) outside the statutory scheme of RIPA.

Further reading:

The Intercept

The Register



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FT post on the Panama Papers: public interest disclosure v the right to private legal advice

6th April 2016

I have posted over at on the Panama Papers and whether their disclosure raises concerns about the right to private legal professional advice.  The post is here.

Here are a couple of excerpts:



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“Privacy is Surveillance” – Part 1 of the Investigatory Powers Bill

2nd March 2016

Yesterday the government put the Investigatory Powers Bill before parliament.

(Note it is not a “draft” Bill – that was the last one. This is now the Bill (which is, in turn, a draft Act).)

The parliament webpage for the Bill is here and it is worth bookmarking, as website will track the passage of the Bill and will provide links to the debates and other materials.

The Bill itself is here  and the “explanatory notes” are here.  (The explanatory notes are to explain the Bill – but they are not part of the Bill, will not become law, and will not bind any court.)

It is a long and complex Bill – many of the clauses are highly technical even before you try and fit the clauses together. (In this way, writing legislation or any other complicated legal document is lot like coding.)

It looks like government is seeking to rush the Bill through at speed.  Of course, such disregard for parliament is contrary to this government’s lofty assertions about “parliamentary sovereignty”.  There is a serious question as whether parliament can properly scrutinise the Bill.

In this post, I do not even try to scrutinise the Bill.  I am going to do something far more trivial but which may (or may not) show something telling about the Bill.

You will see that “Part 1” of the Bill is called “General Privacy Provisions”.


From a liberal perspective, this is an encouraging signal.

A search for “privacy” in the Bill, however, reveals that other than in clause 1(3)(a) – in the image above – there are no mentions of “privacy” anywhere else in the Bill, other than in titles.

Of the fourteen mentions of “privacy” overall:

one is the title of Part 1;

one is the title of Part 1 in the contents page;

nine are mentions of the title of Part 1 in the headers;

one is at clause 1(3)(a); and

two are in mentions of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (S.I. 2003/2426).

So “privacy” is mentioned more often in the headers to pages than in the Bill itself, and it is only once used anywhere in the Bill when it is not in a title.

It is almost as if some bright spark at the Home Office thought that privacy concerns could be addressed by simply adding “privacy” to the title of Part 1 of the Bill.

Of course, this is not a complete way of assessing how privacy is addressed in the Bill – privacy points can be covered without necessarily using the word, and a search for “privacy” in the (non-binding) explanatory notes is an instructive exercise.

But, as far as Part 1 of the Bill is concerned, the motto could well be “Privacy is Surveillance” – as one famous political observer would have put it.


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The push-me-pull-yous of public policy: surveillance and freedom of information

1st March 2016


“If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear.”

Adage, attributable to someone or other.


Surveillance and freedom of information are the push-me-pull-yous of public policy.

Those politicians and officials in favour of ever-more surveillance will assure you that if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear.

But many politicians and officials – often the same ones urging greater powers of surveillance – want to weaken the freedom of information rights of the citizen against public bodies.  It would seem politicians and officials need the “safe spaces” which they also wish to deny the citizen.

Of course, this is a contradiction: the politicians and officials cannot – at least not intellectually – have it both ways.

At base the debates about surveillance and freedom of information are about the relationship of the citizen and the “state” – who knows what about whom.  And if politicians and officials want to know more about the citizens, then the same principle of transparency should first be applied to public activities.

After all, if politicians and officials have nothing to hide then they surely have nothing to fear.

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Law and policy round-up: Do Ministers know best?

10th February 2016

This is today’s law and policy round-up.


Ministers really do know best, it would seem.

A couple of days ago the Attorney-General – whose office is still narked at losing the Evans and Prince of Wales letter case [2015] UKSC 21 – gave a speech where he explained why ministers were better guardians of the public interest than judges.

And yesterday at a parliamentary committee, Justice Minister Shailesh Vara responded defiantly to powerful recent criticism by the Master of the Rolls on the shoddy MoJ research into the effect of court fees.

But meanwhile, back in the real world, the Intelligence and Security Select Committee published a scathing report on how Ministers did not have any clue why they were asking for the surveillance powers in the new Investigatory Powers Bill.

It would appear Ministers do not know best, after all.



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How Michael Gove won the cabinet row about the Saudi prison contract

31st January 2016

On the morning of Tuesday 13 October 2015 the UK Prime Minister David Cameron had a serious political problem – a problem which seemed to many political observers to have almost come from nowhere.

The problem was about a proposed commercial relationship between the UK’s Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for courts and prisons services in England and Wales, and the government of Saudi Arabia.

The contract – for providing training to the Saudi prison system – had not even been signed and was still at bidding stage. And the value of the deal at £5.9 million was not that significant in the context of UK-Saudi relations.

But somehow the matter was now a pressing political concern – indeed a possible minor political crisis – that could only be resolved by a quick decision of the prime minister.

That morning the Times had reported a cabinet split.

On one side was the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who wanted the MoJ to pull out of the proposal, which he inherited from his predecessor.

On the other side was the Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond, who did not want the Saudi government to be upset by the bid being discontinued.

Neither Gove nor Hammond had been long in their respective posts; but their two offices of state are among the most ancient and distinguished.

It is rare for either a Foreign Secretary or Lord Chancellor to be party to any cabinet row, and it was unheard of for them to be rowing with each other.

What made this political row particularly awkward was the way the contract bid was being used by the Labour opposition.

Two weeks before, on 29 September 2015, the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn September 2015 had mentioned the commercial bid in his first speech as leader to party conference:

“Just because I’ve become the leader of this party, I’m not going to stop standing up on those issues or being that activist.

So for my first message to David Cameron, I say to him now a little message from our conference, I hope he’s listening – you never know:

Intervene now personally with the Saudi Arabian regime to stop the beheading and crucifixion of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who is threatened with the death penalty, for taking part in a demonstration at the age of 17.

And while you’re about it, terminate that bid made by our Ministry of Justice’s to provide services for Saudi Arabia – which would be required to carry out the sentence that would be put down on Mohammed Ali al-Nimr.”

It was the first time the contract bid had come to the attention to most politicians and pundits.

Until then it had not been a subject which anyone outside those with a close interest in MoJ affairs either knew or cared about.

There was speculation that information had been leaked to Corbyn by Gove or somebody at MoJ (the truth was more prosaic – Corbyn, with a long-standing record of criticising the Saudi regime, had been briefed by his front bench justice spokespeople about the issue following my post on 25 September 2015 at Jack of Kent).

The contract bid had been cited by Corbyn in aid of his point about the threatened execution of Mohammed Ali al-Nimr, and had it not been for that case, it may not have been mentioned at all.

The Saudi prison bid was now mainstream political news. Cameron was asked about it in that weekend’s interview with Andrew Marr and found it difficult to deflect. It seemed as if the new and controversial Labour leader had scored an unexpected hit at a time he was beset by internal party difficulties (as he is still is).

But the issue then seemed to fade.

A week passed, and the political commentators had many other things to talk about at a time of party conferences.

It looked as if the Saudi prison issue would go as quickly as it came as matter of political importance; maybe Corbyn had had the benefit of some beginners’ luck, and that was all.

And then, two weeks after Corbyn’s speech, the Times splashed on the cabinet split.

The Times is, of course, an excellent news paper and it was a superb scoop by Rachel outstanding political journalist. But it would also be fair to say that the Times had not shown any interest in the subject before its coverage on 13 October 2015. And then suddenly it was a front page lead, backed up with a comment piece inside.

The Times reported:

A cabinet row has broken out between two senior ministers over the fate of a controversial prisons deal with Saudi Arabia.

Michael Gove, the lord chancellor and justice secretary, was accused of naivety by Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, over his demand that a £5.9 million deal with Saudi Arabia be scrapped. The dispute became so entrenched that it was raised at a meeting of the National Security Council, The Times has learnt.

In the comment piece it was contended:

“Saudi Arabia’s brutal prison regime is getting help from the British taxpayer. We should stand up to Riyadh and cancel it

There was just one line in Jeremy Corbyn’s conference speech that got under ministers’ skins — the Labour leader’s call to scrap a deal between the Ministry of Justice and the Saudi prison service. It is the source of a Whitehall row that illustrates the growing tension within government between morality and pragmatism in Britain’s relations with the rest of the world.

The bid for a £5.9 million contract to provide “training-needs analysis” for the Saudi penal system was approved by Chris Grayling, the former justice secretary, as part of a drive by the ministry to sell services abroad. It was submitted in April, by the department’s commercial arm, Just Solutions International (JSI). Michael Gove, who succeeded Mr Grayling in May, has scrapped JSI to focus resources on “domestic priorities”. Crucially, he also wanted to pull out of the Saudi deal, insisting that the government should not be helping a regime that uses beheading, crucifixion, stoning, amputations and lashings to keep its citizens in line. However, he was blocked by Downing Street, on the advice of the Foreign Office.”

That there was tension between the MoJ and the foreign office over the contract bid was not in fact news.

The estimable Alan White had expressly revealed this at Buzzfeed on 17 September 2015 – 12 days before the Corbyn speech:

BuzzFeed News understands that Gove wanted to terminate the entire contract but this was blocked by other government departments who feared that it would damage relations with the Saudis.

And this revelation in turn was simply making plain what was implicit in a ministerial statement of the day before. The MoJ wanted to ditch the deal but was being prevented by “wider government interests”.

Once the Times splashed the story, events began to accelerate.

The able Labour front bench justice spokesperson Andy Slaughter applied for and was granted an “urgent question” on the floor of the house of commons. The deadline for tabling such a question was 10am; the Speaker’s Office would then inform party whips and the department of the question by 11am. The prime minister’s office would have been told about the same time.

The next day would also be the prime minister’s questions, and it would be a topic which Corbyn would be sure to raise.

Suddenly it seemed that the cabinet split would be the subject of commons debates – and debates on the very issue which the new Labour leader had been seen to have scored a point.

Cameron had to take a decision quickly, and he did.

The MoJ were not involved in the decision that day – indeed, whilst Cameron was making his mind up, the department’s senior civil servant was being questioned by a parliamentary committee and his answers presupposed no decision was imminent.

The decision was then announced as the answer to a question at the 11am lobby briefing, which according to the Press Association was worded as follows:

The Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman told reporters: “This bid to provide additional training to Saudi Arabia has been reviewed, and the Government has decided it won’t be proceeding with the bid.”

She added that the decision was based on an examination of the “priorities” for the Ministry of Justice and a decision to “focus on some of the domestic priorities we want to do in terms of reforms here”.

“Having looked at it further again, we have established that we can withdraw at this stage, there will be no financial penalty and consequently that decision has been taken.”

According to the detailed account the next day by Francis Elliott, the political editor of the Times, the sequence of events was then as follows:

The coverage was raised at the routine morning meeting in No 10, at which Mr Cameron and his de facto deputy, George Osborne, consider the day ahead. Ordinarily the prime minister takes soundings from trusted aides and civil servants before giving a judgment. Yesterday, however, he closed down the discussion quickly, deciding that it was too sensitive an issue to be aired at the later meeting.

Instead Mr Cameron is understood to have phoned Mr Hammond, asking him to set out the case for keeping the contract between the commercial arm of the Ministry of Justice and the Saudi government.

Insiders say that he well knew what the reply would be: for months Mr Hammond, supported by Theresa May, the home secretary, has been making the case that it is better to engage with Saudi Arabia than walk away and that the contract was an important part of a wider effort to reform Saudi’s judicial and police institutiions.

He did not call Michael Gove, the justice secretary, who has been arguing for the commercial deal to be ditched, but asked officials to check whether any financial penalties would be incurred should Britain pull out, and was told there would be none.

Faced with having to make a decision between his warring cabinet colleagues, Mr Cameron was acutely aware that he was a little more than 24 hours from a clash with Jeremy Corbyn at prime minister’s questions today.

This description of Cameron’s sequence of priorities in his decision-making seems rather unfortunate though revealing: first the political imperative, then the commercial cost, and then finally whether it was the right thing.

But a decision was made, and a cabinet row (and a political embarrassment) averted.

It is perhaps too early to reckon the real effect of the decision. The Saudi ambassador resorted to the Telegraph to vent his displeasure (which in turn indicated a loss of influence – it is hard to imagine that a Saudi ambassador needing to do that ten years ago). In domestic politics, the dropping of the contract bid has already become a feature of the political narratives of both Corbyn and Gove, as well as being a further mark against the record Gove’s incompetent predecessor as Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling.

Both Corbyn and Gove deserve the political credit for the MoJ’s Saudi’s prison bid being dropped in the way it was.

Both politicians exerted pressures at just the right time. Had it not been for Corbyn’s mention of the commercial proposal in his conference speech, and the likelihood that he would bring the matter up again, the bid would not have had the keen attention of Cameron that it received.

And had it not been for Gove forcing the issue in cabinet (with the Times somehow getting the story) then there would not have been the row for Cameron to resolve so urgently.

But the preconditions for this political row had been in place before the Corbyn speech. And these had been set months before by Gove; his escalation of the matter to cabinet level in the wake of the Corbyn conference speech was  just the final move in a sequence of decisions and deft manoeuvers which started months before.  So when the explosion came, it was clear that it would be at the expense of the Foreign Office.

The key decision by Gove was to close the commercial arm of the MoJ – known as “Just Solutions International” but also to continue with just one main project, the Saudi prisons bid.

Initially, part of the reason for the bid’s continuation was that it was supposed that there was a “penalty” for withdrawing, though this excuse fell away when I asked a series of questions about the penalty’s existence and enforceability.  But when that fig-leaf fell away it became clear that “wider” government considerations were obliging the MoJ to continue. This is what picked by Alan White at Buzzfeed a week before the Corbyn speech.

To anybody who then cared, it was clear that the MoJ wanted out of the bid and was distancing itself as much as possible.  It was open knowledge.

At this stage it was not certain that the bid would continue: no final award decision had been made.

The MoJ thereby might have gone through with performing the contract, whilst controversy about the Saudi human rights record was likely to keep reigniting.

What Gove seems to have been ensuring was not that the bid would be dropped – that was unexpected – but that the blame for the MoJ performing it would be deflected as much as possible to the Foreign and Home Offices. And had it not been for Corbyn, that would have been the most likely outcome.

But when Corbyn did make that speech, then it appears that this manoeuvring was put to a slightly different use, and this is how Gove stoked and won a cabinet confrontation.


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FT post on Home Office, Saudi Arabia and the need for a ‘safe space’

13th January 2016

My latest FT post is now up, on the the Home Office using the jargon of “safe spaces” so as to avoid disclosing the nature of its relationship with the Saudi internal ministry.

FTHO story


And this glorious comment:


You can read the full post here.



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George Osborne’s National Spider Plan

17th November 2015

And so inspired by Jennie Rigg’s brilliant tweet, here are extracts from George Osborne’s speech today, with “cyber” replaced with “spider”.  

And it makes just as much sense.


…And that’s what I want to talk to you about this morning. For government has a duty to protect the country from spider attack, and to ensure that the UK can defend itself in spiderspace.

Today I want to set out how we are fulfilling that duty. I will explain how we have invested in Britain’s spider security in the past five years, and to set out our plan for the next five.

The national spider plan I am announcing means investing in defending Britain in a spider-age. It is a key part the Spending Review I will deliver next week.


It is one of the many spider threats we are working to defeat.

Getting spider security right requires new thinking. But certain principles remain true in spiderspace as they are true about security in the physical world.


But GCHQ has a unique role. It is the point of deep expertise for the UK government. It has an unmatched understanding of the internet and of how to keep information safe.

It is a centre of capability that we cannot duplicate, which must sit at the heart of our spider security.


I can tell you today that right now GCHQ is monitoring spider threats from high end adversaries against 450 companies across the aerospace, defence, energy, water, finance, transport and telecoms sectors.

In protecting the UK from spider attack, we are not starting from zero.

In 2010, at a time when we as a new government were taking the most difficult decisions on spending in other areas, we took a deliberate decision to increase spending on spider.

We set up the National Spider Security Programme and funded it with £860 million.

And for the past five years we have been creating and enhancing the structures and capabilities that Britain needs to defend itself in spiderspace.


We have ensured that our military systems are properly secured from spider attack.

We have built the National Spider Crime Unit so spider criminals are brought to justice.

We established the Computer Emergency Response Team for the UK, and the Spider Information Sharing Partnership so companies could share what they knew.

We developed clear guidance for businesses, including the Spider Essentials scheme, which already has over a thousand companies accredited.


We built spider security into every stage of the education process. We established Spider First and spider apprentices to make sure that we got the talent we needed coming into the field.

And we undertake exercises so we know what to do when there is a serious spider incident.


We have built a world-class range of tools and capabilities that Britain needs to stay safe from spider attack.

We are widely regarded as top or near top in the world.

But nice though it would be to sit on our laurels, the truth is that we are not where we need to be. We are not winning as often as we need to against those who would hurt us in spiderspace.

The truth is that we have to run simply to stand still.

The pace of innovation of spider attack is breathtakingly fast, and defending Britain means that we have to keep up.

At the heart of spider security is a painful asymmetry between attack and defence.


A few years ago mounting a sophisticated spider attack meant having all the skills that each stage of the attack required, from gaining access to the network to designing the payload that was to go into it.


Last summer GCHQ dealt with 100 spider national security incidents per month. This summer, the figure was 200 a month. Each of these attacks damages companies, their customers, and the public’s trust in our collective ability to keep their data and privacy safe.


We will be boosting the capabilities of the National Spider Crime Unit, so that – in partnership with their counterparts around the world – they attack the assumption among too many that spider crime is risk free, and comes with little risk of consequences.


And we will build in the National Spider Centre a series of teams, expert in the spider security of their own sectors, from banking to aviation, but able to draw on the deep expertise here, and advise companies, regulators, and government departments.

Building the National Spider Centre will be a hugely ambitious and important undertaking that reflects this government’s commitment to making the UK secure in spiderspace.


If we do not act decisively, the skills gap will grow, and limit everything we want to achieve in spiderspace. 

So we will launch an ambitious programme to build the spider skills our country needs, identifying young people with spider talent, training them, and giving them a diversity of routes into spider careers.


As all of you who work in the sector know, what is needed are specific spider security skills, building on particular talents.

And we need to tackle this problem on a number of fronts including in our universities. But we need to make sure there are other routes into the spider workforce.


Of course, we need not just great skills but great British companies as well.

If Britain is to be a world leader in spider, and stay at the cutting edge of spider technology, we need the innovation and vigour that only these companies can offer.

We need to create a commercial ecosystem in which spider start-ups proliferate, get the investment and support they need, and are helped to win business around the world.


I am glad that there is already so much happening in this space; I am happy we have the founders of Spider London with us today.

And I am delighted that Paladin Capital has just announced it is establishing a dedicated spider fund in the UK; we can be proud that they have chosen London as its base.

We will build on this energy. We will help commercialise the extraordinary innovation in our universities. We will provide training and mentoring for our spider entrepreneurs.

We will be establishing two spider innovation centres – places where spider start-ups can base themselves in their crucial early months, and which can become platforms for giving those start-ups the best possible support.

I have talked before about an arc of spider excellence – stretching from this building, through Bristol and Bath to Exeter – to make the South West a world leader in Spider Security.

Today I can announce that one of the two innovation centres will be here in the South West of England, in Cheltenham, reflecting the extraordinary talent in this place, and our aspiration that this talent should help drive our spider sector.

Government can itself provide a huge boost for British spider start-ups, if it can be smart enough to marshal its procurement in a coherent way.

This should be a win-win – our spider start-ups need endorsement, investment and first customers.

And government, from our military and GCHQ to the Government Digital Service and the NHS, need to be able to procure excellent spider security hardware and services.

So I can announce today that we will create a £165 million Defence and Spider Innovation Fund, to support innovative procurement across both defence and spider security.

It will mean that we support our spider sector at the same time as investing in solutions to the hardest spider problems that government faces.

Of course, our involvement with industry on spider goes well beyond the spider sector. We need to make sure that Britain has the regulatory framework it needs, particularly in the sectors we define as the Critical National Infrastructure.


Our vulnerability as a nation in spiderspace goes well beyond the critical national infrastructure.


We have a collective interest in the spider defences of individual companies across the British economy.


If we are to tackle the asymmetry between attack and defence, then we need to establish deterrence in spiderspace.


Part of establishing deterrence will be making ourselves a difficult target, so that doing us damage in spiderspace is neither cheap nor easy.


We need to destroy the idea that there is impunity in spiderspace.


We reserve the right to respond to a spider attack in any way that we choose.

And we are ensuring that we have at our disposal the tools and capabilities we need to respond as we need to protect this nation, in spiderspace just as in the physical realm.

We are building our own offensive spider capability – a dedicated ability to counter-attack in spiderspace.

We have built this capability through investing in a National Offensive Spider Programme.


The threats to our country in spider space come from a range of places – from individual hackers, criminal gangs, terrorist groups and hostile powers.


To those who believe that spider attack can be done with impunity I say this: that impunity no longer exists.


That means they need to be prepared for hybrid conflicts, played out in spiderspace as well as on the battlefield. A 21st Century military has to operate as effectively in spiderspace as it does on land and sea, in the air and space.

Our commitment to spending 2% GDP on defence means we can invest in a military that is spider trained, spider secure, and spider enabled, with the ability to fight in every domain of future conflicts.


We need to keep fighting to preserve a free, open, peaceful and secure spiderspace.

Agreement that international law applies in spiderspace has been an essential first step.

And we need international norms of behaviour in spiderspace, so that freedom is matched by responsibility.


We need our police forces to work together to ensure that less and less of the world is a hiding place for spider criminals.

And we need to help our partners develop their own spider-security – as we share a single spiderspace, we collectively become stronger when each country improves its own defences.

For the past five years we have been investing in the spider security of our partners as well as our own.

We have helped establish the outstanding Global Spider Security Capacity Centre in Oxford. In the coming years we will step up these efforts, mindful that we are bound together in spiderspace.

The national spider plan that I have announced today is bold, far-reaching and transformative in numerous ways.


But it will make Britain one of the best protected countries in the world; it will give our companies and citizens the tools they need to stay safe from spider attack; and it will create jobs and prosperity.

With the ability and dedication of GCHQ’s staff, our new National Spider Centre, and the ideas and skills across our country, our plan will make sure that Britain remains a world leader in spider, and give Britain an important edge in the global race.


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Two questions about “something must be done” following the Paris attacks

17th November 2015

In the aftermath of the Paris atrocities there are demands for action: dropping bombs and air-strikes, shoot-to-kill policies, more use of special interrogation techniques (ie, torture), less freedom of movement, more intrusion and less privacy, more powers for the security services, and so on.

What seems to be a feature of many of these demands is that there is no attempt to explain the supposed cause-and-effect. It is almost as if the merit of the proposals is self-evident, a sign of virility: something bad has happened, and so something must be done in return.

But each such demand raises two issues: one of practicality, and one of principle. That is: would the proposal actually help, and does the proposal conflict with the supposed principles, and way of life, we are presumably seeking to defend.

In terms of practice: just doing “something” does not mean you are doing the right thing.  It may make no difference, or it may make things worse.  In terms of dealing with terrorism, one false move can cause problems for a generation.  The history of dealing with the terrorist problems in Northern Ireland is packed with examples of things being “done” which just caused greater difficulties later on.

This is not to suggest doing nothing; just that what needs to be done needs to be thought-through.

So: will what is being called for actually work and, if so, how?

In terms of principle: there appears to be a genuine risk that we could end up undermining – even subverting – the very principles of personal autonomy, the rule of law and freedom of expression which the West can and should be defending and asserting.

These liberal principles are not absolute, and they can be interfered with for reasons of the greater good; but they should not be discarded casually either. The point is whether any serious thought is being put into the required balancing exercise.

So: how will what is being called for interfere with the fundamental values of civilization we are seeking to protect and, if so, has the right balance really been struck?

It sometimes seems that some of those wanting to drop bombs and order air-strikes, to deploy shoot-to-kill policies and to use more torture, to limit freedom of movement, and to intrude more and to give more powers for the security services, do not need a reason for their demands, and still less do they require any evidence as to the efficacy of what they propose; they just want a pretext.

Asking about whether a proposed action is really practical, and about whether a proposed action needlessly interferes with civilized values, is not a check to things being “done”.  It is not an excuse for doing nothing.

Answering such questions instead will tend to mean that the right things are done:  things that work, and things which mean liberal values are being taken seriously.

In essence: “something can be done” is always better than “something must be done”.


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The “Carlile Doctrine”

15th November 2015

Lord Carlile has used the atrocities two days ago in Paris as the basis for calling for proposed new UK surveillance laws to be “expedited”.

It is, of course, far too early to say whether anything about the French attacks warrants any legal change in UK.

For example, France already has more extensive surveillance laws than UK, and the atrocities still happened.

This does not matter to Lord Carlile and the rest of the security lobby. They have a pretext for demanding more legal powers for the security services, and so they do.

We should now have a name for this opportunistic approach, and perhaps a good name for it would be the Carlile Doctrine:

Any act of terrorism will justify more legal powers for security forces, regardless of what it is.



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