Federal Conference Committee met yesterday afternoon to discuss all the last minute items required to make conference happen such as amendments, topical & emergency motions, appeals and so on. It is nominally a two hour meeting, so it has to be quick considering there were 55 amendments to get through – despite getting stuck straight in at the start, we still overran slightly.

First up, amendments. When discussing motions, the ultimate decision is a yes or a no, but with amendments there is also the option of accepting it as a drafting change, i.e. it’s a simple enough change that it does not need to be formally moved and can be published in Conference Daily.

And, as with motions, there are a few reasons for rejection, such as it’s a topic that’s already been well debated as policy, it’s not considered significant enough for debate as an amendment, it’s covered by another amendment or simply we don’t have time. You can reasonably get one or two amendments in a 45 minute policy motion slot and two or three in a one-hour slot. Going beyond that leaves no time for actual debate.

Finally, before I list the amendments I should mention that the descriptions given here are my own summaries, as unlike with motions no title is submitted by the author.

F4 – Mental Health
11 amendments submitted for a 60 minute slot.

  • Accepted for debate
    • F4D: Conversion Therapy – LGBT+ Liberal Democrats (In reworded form)
    • F4F: Support for children & Young People – Liberal Youth
  • Accepted as Drafting Change
    • F4A: Local Government inclusion – ALDC
    • F4B: MH PSHE & Support – Bassetlaw and Sherwood & 28 reps
    • F4G: Mental Health First Aid – Oxford East (Parts only)
    • F4H: CCG governing body membership – South Central Region
    • F4I: Mental Health & Debt – 13 conference reps
    • F4J: “…get into and remain in work” – 14 conference reps
  • Not taken
    • F4C: Multidisciplinary integration & co-location – Hastings and Rye
    • F4E: Gender Identity Clinic Funding – LGBT+ Liberal Democrats

F6 – Stronger Economy, Fairer Society, Opportunity For All (Manifesto Motion)
16 amendments submitted for a 100 minute slot.

  • Accepted for Debate
    • F6C: Independent Living Fund – Central Beds, 18 conference reps, EMLD
    • F6I: Limiting reductions in Welfare Budget – 4 local parties, 57 reps (The Mark Pack Amendment)
    • F6J: Regulating Biometric data & gov’t databases – 10 conference reps
  • Accepted as Drafting Change
    • F6H: Working towards Land Value Tax – Tatton, 26 conference reps
    • F6O: Religion, Belief, Humanist Marriage & Caste Discrimination – 17 conference reps (Parts Only)
  • Not taken
    • F6A: Fairer Economy, Stronger Society – Camberwell and Peckham
    • F6B: Tackling Discrimination – Central Beds, 14 conference reps, EMLD
    • F6D: Youth Development Find – Central Beds, 18 conference reps
    • F6E: Promoting Fair Trade – Liverpool
    • F6F: Promoting the Living Wage – Liverpool
    • F6G: Ending “taxes on poverty” – Liverpool
    • F6K: Environmentally Sustainable Economy – 10 conference reps
    • F6L: Mental and Physical Health care & accessibility – 12 conference reps
    • F6N: Legal Aid & Court Fees – 14 conference reps
    • F6P: Religion – 19 conference reps
  • Withdrawn
    • F6M: Legal Aid, Judicial Review & Court Fees – 14 conference reps

F8 – Five Green Laws
17 amendments submitted for a 45 minute slot

  • Accepted for Debate
    • F8O: Resource Efficiency & Zero Waste Britain Act – 22 conference reps
    • F8P: Energy efficient housing & Fuel Poverty – 23 conference reps
  • Accepted as Drafting Change
    • F8B: Promote Cycling & Walking – Calderdale, 14 reps (Slightly shortened)
    • F8K: Include “conserve nature” in Nature Act heading – 11 conference reps
    • F8M: Correction – 11 conference reps
    • F8Q: Correction
  • Not taken
    • F8A: Funding for Local Government – ALDC
    • F8C: Ending fossil fuel use on railways – Calderdale, 15 reps
    • F8D: Environmental planning & building – 11 conference reps
    • F8E: Detection & prosecution of waste crimes – 11 conference reps
    • F8F: Delete open tendering clause (2a) – 11 conference reps
    • F8G: Delete 10mph clause (3d) – 11 conference reps
    • F8H: Thorium Cycle Reactors – 11 conference reps
    • F8I: Rewording IV – 11 conference reps
    • F8J: Rewording 3c – 11 conference reps
    • F8L: Rewording 4b – 11 conference reps
    • F8N: Rewording 3i – 11 conference reps
    • Request for separate vote on lines 86-88

F11 – A Better Deal for Britain’s Workforce
5 amendments submitted for an 45 minute slot

  • Accepted for Debate
    • F11A: Review Employment Tribunal feels & benefit sanctions – Barrow & Furness
    • F11C: Strengthen Minimum Wage enforcement – Liberal Youth
  • Not taken
    • F11B: Raise Minimum to Living Wage, Phase out zero-hours contracts – Camberwell & Peckham
    • F11D: Living Wage by 2020 – 3 local parties, 26 reps
    • F11E: Large political donations – 10 conference reps

F18 – Freedom of Expression in Europe and Beyond
7 amendments submitted for a 45 minute slot

  • Accepted for Debate
    • F18E: Right to practice and change religion – 19 conference reps (Merged with F)
    • F18F: Repeal of laws restricting practice or change of religion – 19 conference reps (Merged with E)
    • Request for separate vote on line 41 “considered” to end of line 42
  • Accepted as Drafting Change
    • F18B: Abolition of blasphemy & Apostasy laws – Merton
    • F18C: Police data requests against journalists – 10 conference reps
    • F18D: Drafting Amendments – 17 conference reps
    • F18G: Drafting Amendments
  • Not taken
    • F18A: Peaceful protest & Freedom of association – Calderdale, 14 conference reps

Next up was Emergency motions and topical issues. FCC needs to decide if submitted motions are genuine emergencies that could not have been foreseen at the time of the initial motion deadline. If more than one emergency motion is considered valid, there is a ballot of members at conference to decide which is debated.

Four motions/topics were submitted in total:

  • Access to Justice 800 years after Magna Carta
  • Making a Fairer Immigration System for All
  • Leaders’ Debates
  • The detention of women in Immigration Centres (Topical issue)

The Magna Carta motion was withdrawn and the Fairer Immigration motion was not considered an emergency, so only the Leaders’ Debates motion remains. The topical issue will also be discussed in that slot, but as it is not a motion there is no vote at the end.

Finally, there was one appeal against non-selection of a motion on coalition negotiations. The appeal was not successful.

In some welcome news, it has been announced today that the General Medical Council (GMC) have dismissed a long-running case against Richard Curtis, a London-based doctor specialising in trans healthcare.

The case had been due to be heard next month, but the GMC have decided that it does not even warrant a hearing. The final case, before it was dismissed, had been reduced to two allegations failing to follow an older version of the WPATH Standards of Care that was out of date by the time of the complaint and two of providing “misleading” information when referring for surgery that may have been related to patients giving inaccurate information about when they updated their name.

This hopefully brings to an end a long-running campaign against doctors trying to provide progressive treatment in the best interest of trans people which started with the case against Dr Russell Reid nearly a decade ago.

Dr. Curtis’s full statement is below.

It is with much relief that I announce the conclusion of the GMC investigation which has now been in process for nearly four years.

In short the GMC have entirely dismissed the case. There was no Fitness to Practice hearing and no sanctions.

The conditions which were imposed over three years ago, as it turns out, inappropriately, will be removed when the process for that to occur is administered by the GMC and should be a formality.

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for all those who have given their support during this very difficult time.

Dr Richard James Curtis

It’s hardly unsurprising that a letter in the Observer, “We cannot allow censorship and silencing of individuals, contains misleading statements and half-truths. After all, it has been signed by a number of high-profile campaigners against equality for trans people and sex workers who have long found any criticism of their position inconvenient.

What is surprising, and why the letter is deserving of closer scrutiny, is the inclusion of Peter Tatchell’s name at the bottom. My first thought was to check that this was the same Peter Tatchell as the notable gay rights campaigner and not just someone with the same name. Sadly, as can be seen from his twitter feed, it’s the same guy.

Lets take a look at the points raised in the letter one by one. It is a poor selection of arguments indeed as I do not need to cherry pick points from the letter – this is every item in the letter trivially and quickly taken apart by just a little knowledge of the facts and issues involved.

  1. First up, the events surrounding Smirthwate’s show being cancelled. The letter says:

    The fate of Kate Smurthwaite’s comedy show, cancelled by Goldsmith’s College in London last month is part of a worrying pattern of intimidation and silencing of individuals whose views are deemed “transphobic” or “whorephobic”.

    What they didn’t mention was that the show was cancelled in part because of a lack of interest, with only 8 tickets sold. Goldsmith’s Comedy also provide us with more background via Tumblr – specifically, that Smurthwaite herself had warned (Falsely) of a picket of “hundreds”, which the university society simply wasn’t in a position to handle safely, and that “the show will end up being me crying”.

    Free speech does not include the right to an audience but the message here is “Nobody wants to hear me cry and that violates my free speech

  2. Next up:

    There were calls for the Cambridge Union to withdraw a speaking invitation to Germaine Greer

    This one really is a continuation of the last point: Cambridge Union decided to host the event, as is their right, so a parallel event was organised and was, by some accounts, more popular than the original.

    Message: “People talking about me violates my free speech, but I’m allowed to talk about them”

    (It is worth noting that free speech means that Cambridge Union are not free from the consequences of their choice to host Greer: We’re allowed to think that they acted immaturely with their pointless digs at CUSU LGBT+ on Twitter)

  3. My personal favourite is about Cambridge PPC Rupert Read:

    The Green party came under pressure to repudiate the philosophy lecturer Rupert Read after he questioned the arguments put forward by some trans-activists.

    There is only one possible take-home statement from this: “The freedom of speech of the establishment trumps the freedom of speech of everyone else, because we can’t stand criticism.” For Tatchell to sign a letter stating politicians should be free from criticism is especially bizarre, given his history. I hope he simply did not read it properly before signing.

    In other words, All people are equal, but some people are more equal than others.

  4. And finally:

    The feminist activist and writer Julie Bindel has been “no-platformed” by the National Union of Students for several years.

    No platforming is bad, right? Not if you understand what No Platforming is: As the name says, it recognises that someone does not have the right to demand a platform, nor do they have the right to demand to engage with debate against a group.

    The signatories of this letter are stating that they should be allowed to barge on to any university campus or private property anywhere in the land, despite any attempt to create a safe space policy, and start a discussion of their choosing. (For reasons unclear to me, this seems to be a one-sided right: Transphobes have a long history of involvement in events that prevent some women not just from a platform but from turning up at all)

    Or: “Even though we have already established we have free speech and you don’t, we still want more“.

Spring 2015 Conference SubmissionsI have been posting updates on my work as a member of Federal Conference Committee (FCC) on my FCC Facebook page, but based on feedback, some people would prefer to see this hosted somewhere other than Facebook, so I will start posting FCC-related content on this blog, and linking to it from Facebook.

As you have hopefully seen, the provisional agenda for Spring 2015 conference has been published. FCC is now also submitting formal reports of it’s meetings but they have yet to appear on the party-members-only committee page. As a result, the information on which motions failed has yet to be made public even though it is not a secret – so here it is.

First, a quick recap from my earlier update on how motion selection works:

First, an FCC member who is responsible for each policy area gives a quick one minute brief on each motion including feedback received from SPAds, Ministers and HQ along with a recommendation to accept or reject the motion. At this stage, the decision is purely on the basis of the motion itself, not considering debate time available. For some motions the recommendation is uncontroversial and it goes through without discussion. For others, a short debate occurs where FCC members give their views on keeping/rejecting the motion and a show of hands takes place.

FCC started out with 27 motions, (not including the manifesto motion, as FPC-submitted motions cannot be rejected) and the first pass reduced this to 14. Given a substantial amount of time was given over to the manifesto debate and spring conference is shorter than autumn, there is time available at conference to discuss four or perhaps five non-emergency policy motions – just because a motion is rejected it does not mean that FCC does not like it. For comparison, spring conference in 2014 debated seven non-emergency policy motions.

The second, third and fourth passes are to whittle down the list based on time available.

Four more motions were dropped in round two via a vote but without debate. Short debates and votes dropped the list down again to just six motions. Four of those were motions that FCC definitely wanted to hear debated, leaving two motions to be debated head-to-head and voted on.

Now, for the motions. Firstly, those rejected because they not considered suitable for debate. This is often due to wording of the motion and not necessarily because FCC does not like the topic. One key item of feedback I would give to those submitting motions is to ensure your motion is clear in terms of what it refers to (E.g. does “education” mean just children or adult education too?) and that the items in “conference calls for” have not already happened in part or whole.

  • Education: Citizenship Education and Political Education as part of Wider Political Reform. (Submitted by Brighton & Hove)
  • Education: Practical Action to Promote Equality and reduce poverty. (Calderdale)
  • Education: The accountability of OFSTED. (10 Conference Reps)
  • Energy and Climate Change: Fracking. (City of Peterborough) Rejected due to the 2 year rule: Conference does not usually re-debate a topic within 2 years.
  • Energy and Climate Change: “Fracking” Extraction of shale gas (or oil) by hydraulic fracking. (11 Conference reps) 2 year rule.
  • Health: Protecting our communities and children from conversion therapy. (Calderdale) Two nearly identical motions were submitted, but the longer one was preferred.
  • Home Affairs, Justice and Equality: Gangmaster licensing authority (Barrow and Furness)
  • Transport: A south coast mainline railway. (Hastings and Rye) More suitable for a regional conference
  • Work & Pensions: Taxes on Poverty (Liverpool)
  • Party Business: Negotiations in a hung parliament (27 Conference reps)
  • Party Business: Principled Liberal Democracy (Calderdale)
  • Party Business: Recruiting our way to greater diversity (EMLD)

Next, motions that had been considered worthy of debate but rejected due to lack of time:

  • Round 2 (Vote but no debate)
    • Energy and Climate Change: Energy efficiency first (24 Conference reps)
    • Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Resource efficiency for green growth (25 conference reps)
    • Transport: Improving health by cutting vehicle pollution (23 Conference reps)
  • Round 3 (Vote after debate)
    • Education: Youth Services (14 Conference reps)
    • Health: Electronic Cigarettes and harm reduction (Calderdale &amp 13 Conference reps)
    • Health: Protecting our communities and children from conversion therapy (LGBT+ Liberal Democrats & Liberal Youth) Could be an amendment to the Mental Health Motion
    • Home Affairs, Justice and Equality: Magna Carta Today (Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association)
    • Transport: Rail Fares (Eastleign & 10 Conference reps)
    • Work & Pensions: Scrutiny and advice panels for job centres (Cambridge)
  • Round 4.
    • Culture, Media & Sport: Harnessing the power of the creative industries (11 Conference reps) This was effectively a head-to-head debate against the Freedom of Expression in Europe motion, as the other 4 motions FCC had a choice over were clearly going to be debated.
  • Successful Motions
    • Business, Innovation & Skills: A better deal for Britain’s workforce (17 Conference reps)
    • Education: Funding (12 Conference reps)
    • Energy & Climate Change: 5 Green Laws (Kingston)
    • Foreign Affairs: Freedom of expression in Europe and beyond (20 Conference reps)
    • Health: Mental Health (10 Conference reps)
    • Stronger Economy, Fairer Society, Opportunity for all (Submitted by Federal Policy Committee – FCC must accept for debate) This is the manifesto motion.

In the latest twist in the saga of Inhouse Pharmacy, two of their web sites (inhousepharmacy.biz and inhousepharmacy-europe.com) unexpectedly disappeared from the internet some time in the last 48 hours. Yesterday morning, users started receiving the email reproduced below in which IHP cite “anti-competitive action in the USA” as the reason for the domains being unavailable.

Blocking domain names seems to be a relatively new tactic in the campaign – presumably orchestrated by big pharma – to try to shut down online pharmacies, which are the only source of HRT for many trans women. Previous efforts have concentrated on payment providers instead.

Fortunately, other similar sites appear unaffected.

We have changed our website name

Today due to anti-competitive action in the USA it is necessary for us to become:


We have done this to ensure you can continue to access our affordable medications from us in the same reliable manner you have grown to trust.

Our old domain www.inhousepharmacy.biz is no longer operating, but we are, just with our .VU domain name which stands for Vanuatu, the country where we are based in the tropical South Pacific.

Business is normal, the site and prices are just the same. We are the same people you have grown to trust and when you phone us you will be talking to the same customer service team. Please come on over to our new site at www.inhousepharmacy.vu. Please remember USA shoppers right now get a 10% additional discount if paying by eCheck – give it a try.

10% Special eCheck Discount

Website Login

Unfortunately we were not able to move your old account on www.inhousepharmacy.biz over to our www.inhousepharmacy.vu site. When you shop on www.inhousepharmacy.vu it may not recognise your email address so please kindly complete your purchase and choose the option at the end to save your details for next time.

Once your order is placed, our team will recognise it’s you.

Trans politicians were briefly in the news today, when it was claimed that the Labour candidate for Sutton and Cheam was the “first transgender candidate for Parliament”.

After a short session of fact-checking supplied by twitter, that’s now been reduced to “first openly transgender candidate for Labour” – but as this mistake keeps cropping up it appears that a brief history lesson might be useful.

The first openly trans candidate in current political memory appears to have been Alexandra (Sandra) MacRae, who stood in Glasgow Provan for the SNP back in 1992. Twenty three years isn’t just a long time in politics – it’s a lifetime, meaning the story of her candidature is now unclear. It was certainly known that she was trans by the date of the election, and it seems likely that it was known prior to her selection, as she had previously stood at least once before transitioning (in 1996) and possibly, according to some sources, as many as three times.

Arguably, she remains the best parliamentary record of a trans person to date, securing 21.7% of the vote and coming second to Labour. But don’t expect her to stand again any time soon following her conviction and jail sentence for fraud.

Second, if we are going by coming-out date, would be Stephanie Dearden.

There is a version of events that has Stephanie being “outed” Daily Mail in 2005, but there are earlier Guardian stories which mention her in connection with the July 2004 Leicester South by-election. The attack leaflets distributed at that time, showing the Liberal Democrat candidate shaking Stephanie’s hand, include a quote from her clearly revealing her trans status – suggesting she may have never been stealth.

Either way, she certainly was not stealth by the time of her selection for Tooting constituency for the Liberal Democrats on the 4th November, 2004 and she went on to come third with 19.5% of the vote.

Next up is Nikki Sinclair, who was an MEP until earlier this year and whose background is better known. She has stood four times post-transition and as an open lesbian but before coming out as trans – for UKIP in 2001 and 2005 for Westminster, in 2009 for the European Parliament when she was successfully elected as a UKIP MEP and again for Westminster as an independent in 2010, following her departure from UKIP.

She came out as trans in 2013, but lost her MEP re-election bid as part of the “We Demand a Referendum Party”.

Fourth and fifth are the Green Prospective Parliamentary Candidates Charlie Kiss – the first trans man anyone knows of – and Stella Gardiner, who has been a Green party member since 1993 and who transitioned in 2013.

Both Stella and Charlie have been selected for seats in London in May 2015, with Stella adding that she “took the decision from the start to be out and open about being trans“.

This puts the latest announcement sixth on the list – and with just under six months to run until the general election, I’m expecting that we’ll see at least one more trans candidate announced for May 2015. There were eight openly trans politicians who stood this May, and I would expect the total to be higher in a General Election year.

This post was updated on 10th December 2014 with links showing the date of Stephanie Dearden’s selection. Thanks to Jon Ball for finding this information.

The European “right to be forgotten” has been in the news recently as it has been a little over 6 months since Google launched their formal process, allowing individuals to request the removal of search results for their name. But which Europeans are most and least likely to request removal from Google search results?

Germany, the UK, Italy and France all feature highly based on raw numbers, but that is to be expected given those are also the most populous countries. Looking at the numbers based on population the answer is, surprisingly Estonia. Unless some Estonians are submitting more than one request, which would be odd given one request can list multiple URLs to be removed, nearly one in every thousand Estonians have contacted Google requesting removal. At the other end of the scale, Bulgarians are the least likely to want to be forgotten with less than one request in ten thousand people with Greeks being close behind.

The UK comes right in middle of the pack. Despite the national stereotype, it appears we are no more shy than any other Europeans when it comes to having our details online.

Right to be forgotten

Technical notes: Analysis is based on Google data as at 8th December, using World Bank population estimates from 2010. Countries with a population of less than 500,000 (Liechtenstein, Iceland) have been removed.

News emerged yesterday* that the Gender Recognition Panel (GRP) is delaying and possibly denying legal gender recognition because a trans person has had children whilst living in their new gender – an act which is completely unjustified, given that the Gender Recognition Act does not require someone who has transitioned to refrain from sex that may get them or their partner pregnant.

At best, this delay is of questionable legality and reveals a dangerous element of (hopefully inadvertent) transphobia in the decision making process of the panel, likely fueled by ill-informed and sensationalist media coverage.

But at worst, the panel are willfully intruding into the area of reproductive justice. Coercive sterilisation of trans people has long been a major concern, but one that was until yesterday limited to countries other than the UK. Questioning the commitment of any trans person who has the audacity to exercise their reproductive rights is simply an attempt to force de-facto sterilisation via the back door, something considered a human rights abuse by the Council of Europe.

What is also of concern is that the panel based the decision to request more information on the publication of a newspaper article. This has the effect of penalising those who engage with the media as part of a campaign for equality. It will also hinder people who, as is often the case with members of the trans community, have been outed without their consent and have had deliberately misleading or inaccurate information about them distributed in order to sensationalise a story.

In an older case, the panel delayed an application because a doctor correctly decided that the information that a trans person had a wife and children was of no relevance and did not include it in their report. Another doctor did mention it, and thus the panel decided it should investigate further to ensure the first doctor was giving his opinion “in light of the correct factual situation”.

It is entirely possible that the Gender Recognition Panel does not realise the gross errors it is making, as having any experience of trans matters is not a requirement to sit on the panel. According to the Gender Recognition Act, “the only persons who may be appointed to the [panel] are persons who have a relevant legal qualification (“legal members”), or are registered medical practitioners or registered psychologists“. There is no further requirement given, beyond specifying exactly what legal qualifications legal members needs.

That means that being a doctor or lawyer in any field whatsoever is a more necessary qualification for determining someone’s gender than having any first hand experience of the topic whatsoever.

PS. If you have had a similar experience with the Gender Recognition Panel delaying an application because you have had a child, UK Trans Info would like to hear from you – email info@uktrans.info.

The original tweet, although anonymous and not made by the original applicant, was removed the following day as the person to whom this happened is worried that publicity may affect their GRC application

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill was published yesterday, along with a couple of supporting documents, but it is still unclear exactly what data the Home Office is proposing to retain.

There is a need for the government to clarify the language in the bill and supporting documents, because it will be difficult to have a debate about security vs. freedom without this information. (We would really have to assume the worse case option, numbers 2 & 3 below combined) It may also result in legal wrangling if a service provider objects at a later stage to the information they are being asked to collect.

There are three likely interpretations of the bill:

  1. They want to keep:

    • account-to-IP address mappings for broadband
    • source IP address and port for NAT on mobile and cloud networks
    • MAC addresses on cloud WiFi networks.

    Although the data does not seem particularly useful and would thus query the price tag, the civil liberties implications seem minor, given that this data may be being kept by the ISPs in many cases already.

  2. As (1), but also collecting data such as MAC addresses from end-user equipment where it is operated by an ISP. (E.g. BT Home Hub) This is troubling, as people will not expect that equipment in their own homes would be spying on them.
  3. As (1) or (2), but also keeping some element of destination information to allow matching with destination server logs – e.g. destination IP address and port. Although in many cases an IP address/port combination is ambiguous when it comes to what site is being visited that is not always the case. Collecting this data strays into the same territory as with the Communications Data Bill.

It has been suggested that there may be a provision somewhere to also require CSPs (Facebook, Twitter etc) to keep source port information in server logs, which would make the data from (1) more useful if the source and destination is also in the UK.

If they could also publish how many additional RIPA requests they would expect to be able to get a positive result from due to this bill, that would also be useful information.

(It’s also worth reading the Impact Assessment if you are researching all this)

Yesterday saw the publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee report into the events leading up to the murder of Lee Rigby. On reading it, one gets a sense of naivety from the members of the committee on how the Internet works, particularly when it comes to international jurisdictions. (Communications data is p139 onwards)

Notably, the committee seemed surprised that wholly US companies did not consider themselves to be subject to UK laws. To emphasise that, here’s an extract.

242. The UK Government has always asserted that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) has implicit extra-territorial jurisdiction. The problem is that, whereas UK Communications Service Providers (CSPs – Facebook, Twitter and so on) accept that they are legally obliged to provide access to the communications of individuals, most CSPs based outside the UK do not accept that the UK legislation applies to them.

Many in the UK would be shocked if random foreign laws suddenly applied to them, so it’s a little concerning that the Home Office think the reverse might be true.

It continues:

The Home Office has explained the argument the US CSPs have made: “RIPA lacks explicit extraterritorial jurisdiction and cannot be argued to place any obligations onto CSPs based outside of the UK.

The Home Office explained the particular issue US CSPs have raised, that: “complying with RIPA would leave US companies in breach of US legislation (including the Wiretap Act in relation to lawful interception)

So the problem is not just that the Home Office believes it can pass UK laws compelling people in foreign countries to hand over data, but that it thinks UK law can compel people to break their own local laws. I usually only see that level of “we’re a world power” arrogance in Americans from particularly red states these days.

Even if we restrict the “our data laws should apply in your country” principle to US-UK relations and ignore countries like China or Russia, it quickly becomes clear that this would cause all sort of problems in areas where we do not agree on policy.

The section of the report that has been most covered is the part that blames an unnamed site, since revealed to be Facebook, for not alerting the security services to an exchange between one of the attackers and an associate. The whole analysis suggests a lack of knowledge of how the internet and social media works:

  1. Firstly, there is an assumption without discussion that Facebook has a “moral duty” to search all member communications for suspicious content. This assumption conveniently ignores:
    • That it’s possibly illegal under US Wiretap laws mentioned earlier
    • The huge problems associated with appointing a US company guardian of international morals (I am hoping that the ISC does not expect Facebook to examine content on the basis of the laws of the country the end-users are in, unless it thinks social media sites should be reporting LGBT people to the authorities in countries where that is illegal)
    • The rather robust freedom of speech the US has
  2. There is also an assumption that Facebook could have detected the exchange via automation. This is based on the closure of several other accounts for various reasons, some of them unconnected with terrorism even though the account the exchange took place in was not closed. It is not clear if the “automatically” closed accounts were due to a large volume of uncontested end-user complaints, because that sort of quasi-automation of complaints triggering account closures on social media will not help with private chat between individuals. What the US regards as terrorists another state might regard as freedom fighters, which also puts Facebook in a sticky situation deciding who to report.
  3. That determining which security service to tell is not easy. If a US citizen is on holiday in the UK and messages suspect content, do you tell the US or UK authorities? The Home Office expressed reluctance in it’s MLAT discussion to go via US authorities, but is it expecting Facebook to report everyone to UK police when it doesn’t have any way of knowing their nationality? The US government may not be too happy about that, given it would mean allowing the UK to spy on US citizens here on holiday or business.
  4. That blanket trawls for data can produce quite unjust outcomes, such as the Robin Hood airport case.
  5. That the information needs to get to the UK somehow when as noted earlier, this may be illegal under US Wiretap law.
  6. And that the UK security services would need to find time to look at a potentially huge amount of data, when the report already highlights the amount of data they have to sift through is more than they can handle

Fortunately, the committee did not entirely side with the Home Office.

The report includes a discussion on existing routes that UK security services can use to obtain data using US laws and the committee quizzed the Home Office on why the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) was insufficient for data collection. The Home Office response included the following:

…the MLAT process would require the release of sensitive data to the US authorities, since “the intelligence case underpinning the warrant application [would have] to be considered by US authorities”. In addition, the US legal process would mean that the Secretary of State’s decision (i.e. the warrant) would be exposed to scrutiny by a US court. This would be at odds with RIPA which prohibits the disclosure of the existence of an interception warrant

The ISC did not have much time for the Home Office’s “we can’t be bothered with any of that due process stuff unless it’s not our process” response and suggested instead that MLAT was probably exactly the route we should be using.

Due to the tone of the report, I took some time to dig into the backgrounds of those MPs and Lords who sit on the committee. Shockingly, it is terribly unrepresentative even by parliamentary standards – five of the nine members are lawyers, one was a civil servant for his entire career and one appears to have never had a non-political job. Of the remaining two, one was a teacher and the other was very briefly an engineer back in the late 1960s/early 1970s before becoming a lecturer. The average age is 65 and none have any IT or Intelligence background that I can see.

This does not seem like an appropriate group of people to be scrutinising intelligence work in an increasingly digital world.

And as a parting note, I shall point out that there is nothing anywhere in the report that suggests increasing UK communication interception laws would have prevented the murder of Lee Rigby.