“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”.

PrivacyIsSurveillance

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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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

SafeSpace

And this glorious comment:

CommentoftheDay

You can read the full post here.

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The new Investigatory Powers Bill and the politics of ‘nodding along’

2nd November 2015

Today I have done a quick post at the FT on the Home Office’s PR exercise this week on the new Investigatory Powers Bill.

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“Exclusive” – the Home Office has a MoU with Saudi Arabia about which it is keeping quiet.

  1. 2nd October 2015

In researching around the Ministry of Justice’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Saudis, I came across a curious piece of information.

(ADD, 3rd October 2015: A “Memorandum of Understanding” is a formal agreement, but usually one that is not intended to be contractual binding.)

According to a 2015 Foreign and Commonwealth Office report, the Home Office signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Saudi interior ministry in March 2014:

“In March, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, signed a MoU with her Saudi counterpart to help modernise the Ministry of the Interior, which draws on UK expertise in the wider security and policing arena. This will complement work going on between the College of Policing and a range of Saudi security bodies.”

The remarkable thing is that – other than this mention on the FCO website (and that is in an fairly obscure report) – there appears to be no public mention by the government at all of this document.

It may well be that the FCO mention is a fortuitous-sort-of-accident and that the MoU was never intended to be known about publicly.

But the MoU is an important document: the UK Home Office is formally assisting the police in one of the most repressive regimes in the world.

As this blog has previously set out: the Saudi regime is, without any exaggeration, barbaric.  Criminal offences are not defined; there is no recognisable due process for defendants; and the punishments are savage. And this description is not just some hyperbole of a breathless human rights lawyer: it is what the UK embassy in Riyadh itself says in its chilling Information Pack for British Prisoners in Saudi Arabia.  On punishments, the guide says:

“Criminal law punishments in Saudi Arabia include public beheading, stoning, amputation and lashings. Serious criminal offences include not only internationally recognized crimes such as murder, rape, theft and robbery, but also apostasy, adultery, witchcraft and sorcery. In addition to the regular police force, Saudi Arabia has a secret police, the Mabahith, and “religious” police, the Mutawa. The Saudi courts impose a number of severe physical punishments. The death penalty can be imposed for a wide range of offences including murder, rape, armed robbery, repeated drug use, apostasy, adultery, witchcraft and sorcery and can be carried out by beheading with a sword, stoning or firing squad, followed by crucifixion.”

That is the regime our Home Office is formally assisting.

But it seems the Home Office do not want you to know about the Memorandum of Understanding whatsoever; it is nowhere on the Home Office site, and so far as I can see, it is not mentioned anywhere else.

(If this is wrong, please add links in the Comments below.)

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I asked the Home Office press office about this MoU today, and their answers were as follows:

Q: Can you confirm whether the FCO statement is correct?

A: “The information on the FCO website is accurate.”

 Q: Can you confirm whether the Home Office-Saudi MoU is still in force?

A: “The Home Office does have an MoU with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The MoU remains in effect.”

 Q: Is it possible to get a general statement on the MoU?

A: “There is nothing to add regarding this MoU beyond the information already available on the Gov.uk website.”

On the last answer, I asked as a follow-on:

The third answer is ambiguous: is there information on the Gov.UK website on the MoU other than at that FCO link?  If so, may I have links to that publicly available information?

To which the response was:

A: “…just to be clear; I was referring to the information you have already highlighted.”

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So:

– there is a Memorandum of Understanding between the UK Home Office and Saudi Arabia;

– the Memorandum of Understanding covers serious matters;

– the Memorandum of Understanding means UK policing expertise is given so as to assist the police in a notoriously repressive regime; and

– the Memorandum of Understanding remains in force.

But left to the Home Office you would not even know it existed.

 

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