Investigatory Powers Speech to LibDem Conference

Unsurprisingly, a motion to Liberal Democrat conference against the Investigatory Powers Bill passed overwhelmingly this weekend. Below is the video and text of my contribution to the debate, which I can share with you as I had written it in advance, albeit only a couple of hours earlier!

The myth spread by the Home Office that the technical industry understands the Bill is always something I am keen to dispell, so that was my main purpose in wanting to speak. The quote from the New York Review of Books is also something that’s stuck in my head since I first read it, and I particularly wanted to give it an airing in the debate. (I have verified the quotes given in the article from other sources)

All of this is, sadly, against the backdrop of a very showing from both Labour and the SNP who abstained at the second reading of the bill yesterday. A particular shout out is due to Cambridge’s Labour MP Daniel Zeichner, who said he wants to “robustly challenge” the bill… but abstained anyway.

(The text below is what I wrote in advance, it does not entirely match what I actually said. No autocue for most speakers at conference)


I am a member of the Security & Liberty working group, so it should come as no surprise to you that I would urge you to support the motion. Brian Paddick has already made the case for the motion very well. However, there are some points I would like to make in relation to metadata and some of the claims being made by the current government.

A couple of months ago, I was asked to speak as part of a Q&A panel on the Investigatory Powers Bill at the UK Network Operators Forum. This forum, in case the name is not enough of a giveaway, was a full of a couple of hundred of the people who really run the Internet. I worked as one of those running the internet myself, for over a decade.

I asked – who here understands what data you are being asked to collect by the Home Office? Now, if you believe what we’re being told by the Tories, every hand in that room should have gone up. Because we’re told that – absolutely – Service Providers really understand the limits of what is being asked of them.

But not one hand went up. Nobody understood the limits of the powers Theresa May is asking for. The bill is so confused, and hands Theresa May such sweeping and unchecked power, that the draft bill includes the now-infamous phrase “Data includes any information which is not data”.

Of course, the Tories claim that it’s only meta-data, or “Internet Connection Records” as they’re now calling it. That can’t be too harmful, can it? Here’s a quote from David Cole in the New York Review of Books, in 2014

As NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker has said, “metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need content.” When I quoted Baker at a recent debate at Johns Hopkins University, my opponent, General Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA, called Baker’s comment “absolutely correct,” and raised him one, asserting, “We kill people based on metadata.”

No other democratic country in the world gives such powers to its politicians to monitor and collect Internet browsing history to this extent.

Please vote for the motion.

2 comments

  1. Incidentally I see no reason why any stream of data cannot be analysed fully providing that you have enough processing power. So if I were a politician and was told that analyzing internet packets and the data contained therein to detect subversion or maybe even Catholicism 🙂 couldn’t be done I would say buy a bigger processor!

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