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.

As a result of Freedom of Information request responses, the figures for all three major political party’s conference accreditation schemes have been released. When I looked at the numbers for 2010, Labour conference attendees were around twice as likely to be blocked as Conservative conference ones, with the LibDem conference somewhere in the middle.

The results for this year and previous years are as follows:

2012 2011 2010
LibDem 0.018% – 1 / 5,585 0.045% – 3 / 6,650 No accreditation
Labour 0.032% – 3 / 9,403 0.19% – 25 / 12,032 0.20% – 24 / 11,988
Tory 0.04% – 4 / 9,612 0.19% – 24 / 12,800 0.04% – 6 / 13,767

The first thing to notice is that 2012 conference attendance is well down across all three parties – 15% for the Liberal Democrats and over 20% for both Labour and the Tories. Secondly, conference rejection rates this year have been lower than earlier years, which may be the effect of additional focus caused by the liberal backlash against the process. It is also interesting to note that the difference between the Tory and Labour conferences in 2010 was a one-off, and has not been reflected in later years.

It always puzzled me how the figures for this could be so low, given the significant number of people I know who have been willing to apply but been stopped by accreditation – I know personally of at least three people this year who were unable to attend the Liberal Democrat 2012 conference. If we ask the police the number of people who tried to attend but didn’t complete accreditation, the numbers are much higher:

2012 2011 2010
LibDem 0.70% – 39 / 5,585 No data No accreditation
Labour 1.69% – 159 / 9,403 3.76% – 452 / 12,032 No data
Tory 1.04% – 100 / 9,612 3.42% – 438 / 12,800 No data

So it seems that accreditation is having a more serious effect on excluding people than the headline rejection figures would initially show. For example, one cases I am aware of includes a situation where someone had moved around and the police asked for additional proof and information on previous addresses, too late for it to be reasonably produced. In the case of the Liberal Democrats, these people will never reach the Party President and Federal Conference Committee chair for consideration, so they will not even have the chance to argue their case as would someone who had been outright rejected.

Finally, although not available in all cases, the 2011 Tory conference response included number by type of applicant. The disparity between rejection/non-approval rates and types of applicant show we should be at least a little cautious with the above figures.

Rejection Non-approval
Political Party Members 0.046% – 5 / 10,921 1.48% – 162 / 10,921
Ancillary 0.90% – 15 / 1,672 16.0% – 268 / 1,672
Security 1.93% – 4 / 207 3.86% – 8 / 207

Dear Nick,

We love you really. Particularly after “I’m sorry”.

We were good boys and girls and folk of no particular gender and didn’t make noises about unseating you at conference, because we don’t believe that’s a good idea. (Even if the press would love it)

But you really, really need to learn to stop talking sometimes.

At conference during your Question and Answer session, you were asked about the draft Communications Data Bill. As you probably know this does not make headlines in the Guardian every day but is still something that worries many liberals. When Mark Pack asked you a question on it, you initially responded well with some spot on phrases:

It’s a draft bill“.

Unprecedented levels of scrutiny“.

Julian Huppert“. (Julian’s mention being enough for a round of applause)

And finally, you confirmed what’s become known as “the Huppert Veto“. Despite the name, this is not the latest Tom Clancy thriller.

Well done.

But after about three minutes of not particularly intense questioning, it started falling apart. George Potter asked you if you’d taken any advice on the bill, or even read it before initially endorsing it. It’s fine to say the Home Office misled you. Really, we won’t mind. It happens, and we’re there to catch that sort of thing before it makes it into law. That’s the nice thing about the Liberal Democrats: We can do that, when other parties can’t.

Parroting out the lines that the “principles of the bill are extending existing powers” just makes you sound like you’re reading from a Home Office press release. It’s not just about “extending [existing] powers to other forms of communication, particularly Voice, Skype or whatever“. It’s far more than that, and we know it.

At least when the third questioner challenged you, the response was a reference to “Nasty people”. I’m pleased that we’ve dropped the tired old “paedophiles and terrorists” line. But the “Yeah, yeah” as if you understood what a VPN was didn’t make you look clever.

This is really, really technical.

If I was having to defend a highly technical motion related to the safety of nuclear reactors, or use of certain drugs in hospitals, I’d not even try. I’d get people in who understood the stuff, liberals I trusted, and let them get on with it. Please don’t pretend to understand it because we’re completely OK with the idea that it’s really not that easy.

Frankly, you’ve got other things to do. A country to run. We, lead by Julian, can handle this one.

Instead, just remember these simple four words when questioned on the Communications Data Bill:

I agree with Julian“.



Last night, I attended a fringe event on Civil Liberties at the Liberal Democrat Conference. Many topics were covered and as a number of prolific tweeters were present (Myself, Sarah Brown and Caron Lindsay) it had a fair bit of coverage on Twitter.

Many topics were discussed, but one in particular attracted the Twitter attentions of Tom Harris, Labour MP for Glasgow South. That was ASBOs, where concern was expressed that they can be used to punish behaviour that would normally not be imprisonable. For example, if you are homeless on the street you can be given an ASBO preventing you from drinking, something that in itself isn’t illegal. Without help, that homeless person is just going to have a drink and this time they’ll go back in front of the Magistrates and get put in jail for 7 days for breach of the ASBO.

The next time, 14 days. Then, 28 days. And so on.

The only people to really benefit from this are private companies running the prisons. There’s certainly little being done in some cases to address the underlying causes.

Enter Tom Harris:

You’d think Tom would have learnt to be careful on twitter, given he’s already lost his post as Labour’s New Media advisor after some ill-advised tweets.

But no, society has no responsiblity to help people according to Tom. Instead it’s all about “Personal Responsibility”. He goes on to recount a story (Which he sounds proud of!) where he made someone homeless because they had a drink problem.



But wait! Surely, being a decent MP, Tom Harris tried to help this person? Perhaps he’s just not mentioned all the hard work he did in that regard. No, not at all. He wanted to evict this person without considering the alternatives…


So next time you pass someone homeless on the street in Glasgow, or some other city with a Labour MP, stop and think: What caused them to end up on the street? Is it because the local MP put them there, knowing homeless people don’t vote?

The whole affair pretty neatly illustrates the difference between many Labour supporters draconian and authoritarian approach to crime and punishment, versus the Liberal Democrat view.

(Tin Tower has also written up this exchange)

Way back in May, four months ago, I submitted a Freedom of Information request to Sussex Police. It is not anything unusual and requests information I have asked other police forces, such as what equalities impact assessments they carried out into party conference accreditation. They duly acknowledged it.

But after 20 working days, no response. This isn’t that unusual in FoI requests, despite 20 working days being the legal limit, so I politely chase them. No response. So I request an internal review. Again, no response. Not even an acknowledgement.

Next, I write to the Information Commissioner. They take their time (about 6 weeks!) but eventually write directly to Sussex Police, telling them they need to reply in 10 working days. Those 10 working days are up and I still haven’t had any response from Sussex Police.

They know they can not ignore a Freedom of Information request forever, which makes me think they are trying to delay publication of something until after conference. What possible correspondence might Sussex Police have that’s so embarrassing they’re willing to ignore the Information Commissioner purely as a delaying tactic?

The latest round in the ongoing LibDem conference accreditation saga has been opened by party president Tim Farron in a LibDemVoice post.

It isn’t good. (Although kudos to Tim Farron for engaging with and discussing the issue – it’s a situation he probably had no role in creating)

Firstly, the cardinal rule of minority issues has been broken: “Nothing about us, without us”. LGBT+ LibDems did not know this was going to be announced and we certainly didn’t approve anything like this. From what Tim has said subsequently on Twitter, it appears that no Trans people at all were involved in coming up with the solution.

Unsurprisingly as a result, the solution is unworkable: If you out yourself to the party as Trans, we’ll let you bypass accreditation. But given that the concern was the risk of people being outed in the first place… well, I suspect you can see the problem. It appears that those in charge didn’t quite understand the concerns.

And if LGBT+LD are involved in vouching for people, I have no idea how we’re supposed to tell. It may surprise people to know that there is no secret handshake and no piece of paper that everyone will have that can serve as proof. So even if we had a system to verify paperwork, at some level we’d just have to take people’s word for it!

A possible solution to all this mess is lots of cis people to come forward and also say they’re Trans. That way, nobody can be quite sure if you’re Trans or not just because you bypassed accreditation.

This also has the advantage that anyone with a sensitive identity who has concerns about accreditation, perhaps because you’re the victim of domestic abuse and changed your name or you have a history of attacking deputy Prime Ministers, you can still get in to conference.

We can call it the “Spartacus” system.

Just announced tonight is the news that the controversial accreditation arrangements – put in place for last autumn’s Liberal Democrat conference – will also be going ahead for this year’s gathering in Brighton.

This seems a bit premature. For starters, no process has yet been announced for those whose identities require sensitive handling. (Any trans folk for example, or victims of domestic violence) Although I’ve submitted a Freedom of Information request to the police, I fear it will just confirm what I already expect: they have not yet bothered with any equalities impact assessment.

But most worrying is the tone of the announcement, stating that the “possibility of serious harm” to people, including party and venue staff, was a concern. This is the usual campaigning tactic of a totalitarian regime and we should not permit it here, lest it be used in parliament too. The increased risk has not been demonstrated in any meaningful way and certainly has not been shown to be any more substantial than the risk to individuals caused by personal details being leaked.

For some, that risk of details being leaked may just be inconvenience.

For others, it is to risk harassment and physical violence. Other campaigning I am currently involved in revolves around a group whose members will think nothing of using underhand tactics to “out” people, write to their employers to try to get them fired and even make death threats.

Do not underestimate the very real fear with which many people end up living their lives. We should be representing vulnerable people, not making them choose between their safety and being able to speak up at a political conference to make a case for their human rights.

If the current legal and political environment is causing us problems, we need to change things. Some of you may have noticed that we’re a party of government now. We do not need to bow to the powers that be, thinking that it’s all inevitable. It isn’t.

I predict a very interesting set of elections for Federal Conference Committee at the end of his year.

For those not aware, or who are not Liberal Democrat party members, the thorny topic of accreditation (vetting) of LibDem conference attendees has cropped up again. This time round, Federal Conference Committee (FCC) is well aware of the sensitivities and has been asking for views from the wider party on the topic.

I won’t go into the civil liberties issues, as that’s been covered elsewhere. I have however been involved in another aspect of the process, that of accrediting transgender party members and by extension, to some extent also anyone else with an inconsistent or secret previous identity such as victims of domestic violence.

The chair of FCC, Andrew Wiseman, was kind enough to come and visit myself and Sarah Brown in Cambridge in Friday for a chat and to catch up on the current situation as a precursor to us both, along with Adrian Trett (LGBT+LibDems Chair) meeting with full FCC earlier tonight.

Sarah spoke first, and has blogged her take on it after which I filled in a few gaps myself. I mentioned that CRB check rates using the Trans process are half what we would expect, suggesting that Trans folk are put off by CRB-like processes and mentioned that special application processes with organisations like the CRB tend to go wrong. Even for those of us who are out, old names are like knowing the real names of daemons from mythology of old, as they give people emotional power over us we would rather they did not have.

Also, anyone with an inconsistent past faces requests for more information, which is off-putting and creates extra work as well as possibly causing people to run out of time before conference. (I know this happened to at least two non-Trans people)

We had a few questions from FCC members. Two stick in my mind – first discussion on the CRB process. This is not guaranteed to keep anonymity even if they get it right, as unaltered records of any previous offence can be sent to a potential employer, complete with old names on. Secondly, “How to Labour handle this”. The answer is simple – pretty much every Labour supporter I know, even if still a supporter of the party, quit their actual membership after the passage of the Gender Recognition Act 2004. It appears there are very few active and out Trans folk in the Labour party these days. They are also of course the party of ID Cards, so unsympathetic to privacy concerns even among their own members (FCC thought it unlikely the Tories had many Trans members – my experience suggests this may be incorrect, presumably because they haven’t had the chance to annoy the Trans community for most of the the last decade and a half)

Members of the FCC seemed surprised by the strength of what we’d said, based on tweets I’ve seen since. I guess one gets used to pointing out that many of us risk a violent death if we’re outed to the point that is loses its impact to us and just becomes a fact of life. To your average white, straight, cis (i.e. Non-trans) person of a non-military background, a breach of confidentiality means messing around sorting out unauthorised bank transactions, not dodging bricks through the window whilst sorting out new accommodation in another city. In that respect, I’m glad we live in Cambridge and not elsewhere, where life would not be so easy.

Things are heading in the right direction, but FCC do not have the final say given the involvement of the police. After tonight’s meeting they have put conference registration on hold to give them more time to sort things out with the police, so for now we wait…

Chatting to my friendly Federal Conference Committee representative after a typically raucous Glee Club at conference, it transpired that much of the reason for the establishment of the Iron Curtain is the presence of General Secretary Clegg at the event.

Given that all members are equal, would it not make most sense for the FCC to use its unconstitutionally ordained right to exclude just one member, comrade Clegg, from future conferences, rather than randomly selected members of the public drawn out of a hat the terrorists who also happen to be party members?

Unless some members are more equal than others?

I’ve mentioned the results of my FoI-request digging in various places, but not in one spot and not on my blog. For those not familiar with the back story, there has been a bit of a fuss kicked up about the new security arrangements for the Liberal Democrat conference this year, which requires police vetting of all attendees.

Based on an admittedly small sample size of 1 year, conference refusal rates are very different between Labour and the Tories. For the Tories, it’s 0.04% (Conservative Party Conference 2010, 6 refusals of 13,767 individuals vetted) and for Labour, 0.2% (Labour Party Conference 2010, 24 rejections of 11,988) This presumably includes non-party members, such as exhibitors.

My understanding is that usual attendance for the Liberal Democrat conference is around the 6,000 mark, which means we could expect between 2 and 12 people to be flagged up by the police. So far, I’m aware of four people that have been refused outright, including Gareth Epps, plus one more who was advised she’d fail vetting anyway, so it looks like we’re “worse” than the Tories but perhaps not as bad as Labour?

(Update: The figures suggesting that four people have been refused turned out to be premature – as of 10th September, only one person has been refused outright so far, although a significant number of other applications are still pending due to problems.)

I assume there will be more rejections, I’m just aware of those who are “connected” to the mainstream online LibDem community. Not everyone has had their approval through yet, with some not due until a week before conference starts.

We had previously been reassured that the Federal Conference Committee (FCC) had the final say on who was allowed in. However, Gareth’s failure was down to a problem with his photograph which he’s attempted to resolve with a new photograph, rather than due to any security concerns. As a result, it seems that although the power may still technically rest with the FCC, in reality they are unable or unwilling to ignore police “advice”.

Also interestingly, no equalities impact assessment was completed by the police prior to putting these new procedures in place. They have recognised the need for one and were due to complete it in July, and I have, naturally, asked for a copy. This may well prove more important for those with disabilities rather than other marginalised groups, as there were reports of security-related problems at last year’s conference.