Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘civil liberties’

LibDems Must Stand Firm on Free Expression

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th January, 2015

Snoopers CharterIt was inevitable after recent events in Paris that the Conservatives in the UK would try to breathe new life into the Snoopers Charter — specifically seeking the right for the government to read everyone’s emails, in principle on the grounds of national security and the fight against terrorism. Nick Clegg quickly countered that the Liberal Democrats will not stomach that, rightly pointing out the contradiction between David Cameron’s going to Paris to march for free expression while championing curbs on the freedom of expression back home. It is vital that the LibDems hold firm on this. Civil liberties are a keystone issue for the Party, and many of us members and activists were dismayed earlier in this Parliament when it seemed that unsatisfactory compromises were being made (for example on secret courts) which undermined the Partyy’s credibility on such matters. Nick Clegg has effectively prevented Cameron’s extension of Internet scrutiny for the remaining four months of this Parliament, but the LibDems must make civil liberties and freedom of expression core elements of the message the Party will broadcast in May’s election. All the opinion polls suggest that there will be another Coalition of some sort after May 7th., and if the LibDems are part of the next government — whether with the Conservatives or with Labour (whose own record in government on such issues is dire — they must once again curb the excesses of the larger Coalition partner.

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Liberalism in an Era of International Terrorism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st January, 2014

Julian HuppertWhen people don’t have existential worries, it is easy to be a Liberal, Cambridge MP Julian Huppert declared at a Kensington & Chelsea LibDem “Food for Thought” this evening, but it is much more challenging to remain so in an era of international terrorism. But as Julian’s many fans in the the Party and its constituent organisations are aware, he is one parliamentarian who has continued to champion civil liberties through thick and thin, and to keep Home Secretary Theresa May on her toes. That is in complete contrast to Labour’s supine submission to the demands of the security establishment post 9/11; Jack Straw’s role during that period was particularly nauseating. And although the Coalition government replaced the hated Control Orders with a watered-down version (TPIMs), it was thanks to Liberal Democrat pressure that these new measures were softened to take into account genuine civil liberties concerns. Forced internal exile within the UK– which was often a part of Control Orders — may not have been as harsh as Soviet-style banishment to Siberia, but it still uprooted people from their communities. However, as some of today’s newspapers pointed out, because the TPIMs were introduced in January 2012 and last for a maximum of two years, a few hardened individuals will be let back into society this week. Julian opined that even if there is a certain element of risk in that — though those people will be under close surveillance — the alternative of a Labour-style suspension of important human rights would be far worse. Julian also said that the Guardian’s publication of just a tiny percentage of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the level of surveillance by the UK and US security services was for many people a wake-up call to the scale of the problem. None the less, he paid tribute to the people who work at GCHQ in Cheltenham monitoring suspect communication traffic, declaring that the majority of the staff there remain scrupulously within the Law and some of their work does indeed make Britain a safer place.

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Alex Carlile on Counter-Terrorism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 22nd June, 2012

Baron Carlile of Berriew — the former Liberal MP for Montgomery, Alex Carlile — is one of  the LibDems’ most distinguished but also controversial Members of the House of Lords, which is one reason why he attracted a particularly large attendance at the Kettner Lunch at the National Liberal Club today. Another reason is that Kettner Lunch regulars have enjoyed his performances three times in the past and were therefore keen to experience another one. The reason for Alex’s ‘controversy’ — as well as a major element of his distinction — is that after 9/11 and up until early last year, he was the Government’s Independent Reviewer of the UK’s anti-terrorism laws, thereby effectively advising Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron in turn on the sensitive issue of national security. This sometimes put him at odds with LibDem Leader Nick Clegg and other parliamentary colleagues who have taken what they consider to be a more ‘liberal’ line in relation to matters such as the rights of terror suspects, privacy and data retention. To an extent those disagreements are ongoing, given the legislation now before Parliament relating to communication data and so-called Closed Material Procedures, included within the Justice and Security Bill. Alex believes, on the basis of his experience at the Bar, as well as his inside knowledge of issues relating to counter-terrorism, that it is important for the defence of a liberal society that the intelligence services and the Police, where appropriate, can have access to certain information — for example, relating to a suspect’s location at a particular moment, which  these days can be discovered from retrieved mobile phone ‘cell site’ records. Similarly, he argues that there are instances when the prosecution of alleged terrorists or other people trying to undermine society can be jeopardised if all information is made available to the people concerned. I trust I am not bowdlerising what is quite a complex position, eloquently expressed at the lunch by Alex himself. Anyway, this is a story that is going to run and run, not least as, so Alex believes, networks such as Al Qaeda are gowing in some areas of the world, including Yemen and northern Nigeria, posing a real thraat to the UK’s security. ‘Debate about terrorism has been characterised by ignorance,’ he declared at one point. Clearly, he will continue to take his stand, even when other elements in the party raise what for them are valid concerns about the infringement of civil liberties.

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Tom Brake, Facebook and the Snoopers’ Charter

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th March, 2009

The Labour government is making plans to monitor people’s Facebook traffic, in its latest move to turn Britain into an Orwellian society. The Home Office has told the BBC this surveillance is necessary to tackle criminal gangs and terrorists who might use Facebook and other social networking sites for their own nefarious ends. Our phone calls, emails and details of the Internet sites we visit are already deemed by Labour to be of legitimate government interest, in the name of national security. But as Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington, rightly points out, ‘it is deeply worrying that they now intend to monitor social networking sites which contain very sensitive data like sexual orientation, religious beliefs and political views.’  Thank God the Liberal Democrats are there in the Houses of Parliament to protest each time Labour chips away at our civil liberties. Public opinion now needs to be mobilised, before we are led blindfold by Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith into a police state.

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Surveilling Tom Brake

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 3rd September, 2008

 Tom Brake, MP for Carshalton and Wallington and the Liberal Democrat spokesman for London and the Olympics, was filmed by at least 40 CCTV cameras on his journey from Wallington to Westminster this morning, he informed attendees at the Wednesday Circle lunch at the National Liberal Club today. And those were just the ones he spotted. In a talk that was a disturbing account of the degree to which Britain has become a surveillance society, he pointed out that there about four million CCTVs in the UK — some of which now have loudspeakers attached — representing about a fifth of the total in the whole world. Both the authorities and commercial companies are constantly acquiring information about us, some of which data may be passed on (despite data protection laws) or used in ways for which is was not intended.

Britain is also a world-breaker in the size of its DNA database, including that of people who have committed no criminal offence. A disproprtionate amount of these samples are from ethnic minorities.  And if the government persists with its plans for identity cards, even more elements of the Big Brother society risk being introduced. A starting point in tackling the ways that our civil liberites are being infringed would be the introduction of a written constitution, Tom argued, as the product of widespread consultation.

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Now a “Snooper’s Charter”: Where Will It All End?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 13th August, 2008

The latest advance in furthering New Labour’s dream of a surveillance society is coming with the right that will be given to local councils, health authorities and hundreds of other public bodies to access details of people’s Internet use, as well as email and text messge traffic, under new Home Office proposals. The government says this is to comply with an EU directive, but before all the blame is pushed onto Brussels — as I am sure some will try — it is worth pointing out that the European Union adopted related measures after the ‘7/7’ London bombings, under pressure from the then British Home Secretary, Charles Clarke.

He justified this on the grounds of the fight against terrorism and organised crime — sounds familiar? — but the Home Office proposals would mean that all sorts of personal data would become available for investigations relating to a wide range of matters which have nothing whatsoever to do with either. As the Guardian reports this morning, the government has already indicated that it intends to introduce a new communications bill this autumn which will require all the telecommunications companies to hand over all relevant data to one, central “super” data-base, so that the police and other public bodes can access it directly without having to ask for permission each time. Big Brother has truly arrived!

Chris Huhne (who is really making the political running on civil liberties issues these days) has pointed out that government ministers have shown that they cannot be trusted with sensitive data, yet they seem determined to press ahead with the new measures. “We will be told it is for use in combatting terrorism and organised crime,” Chris says. “but it will soon be used to spy on ordinary people’s kids, pets and bins!” 

The Tories have mumbled some discontent about the new Home Office document. But as I outlined in my blog posting yesterday, they cannot be trusted to protect civil liberties either.

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Resign again, David Davis!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 12th August, 2008

Over recent months, the Labour government has been tightening up the surveillance society in which Britons live. At the beginning their excuse was that this was to protect us all from terrorism. But with government encouragement, local authorities are now using surveillance techniques to snoop on people for a whole range of matters that have nothing whatsoever to do with security. And now the Conservative Party has announced that if it gets into office after the next general election, it will increase police powers to conduct surveillance operations against citizens suspected of non-terrorist offences. So much for their supposed support for civil liberties!

The Tories now say they want the police to have the automatic right to use covert video and listening devices, regardless of the seriousness of the suspected offence. As the LibDem Home Affairs spokesman, Chris Huhne, has rightly said, ‘the Conservatives’ dalliance with liberalism is as dead as a dodo.’

The Conservative MP David Davis recently resigned his seat, to be sucessfully re-elected on a platform of defending civil liberties against the Labour onslaught. Well, Mr Davis, if you are an honourable man, you had better resign your seat again, to defend civil liberties against your own party!

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Which Label Will David Davis Fight Under?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 12th June, 2008

David Davis could hardly have caused more astonishment in the Westminster village had he stood up in the House of Commons debating chamber and taken all his clothes off. Many senior Tories are seething at his decision to cause this ‘unnecessary’ by-election, but they will be obliged to fall in behind him during the campaign. Nick Clegg, meanwhile, has announced that the Liberal Democrats will not put up a candidate against him — a decision which has been endorsed by party president Simon Hughes and other senior party figures, both nationally and regionally. But one detail needs answering before one can be entirely comfortable with that decision: exactly what label is Mr Davis going to use in his campaign and on the ballot paper? If it is ‘Stand Up against 42 Days’, or something similar, all well and good. But if it is ‘Conservative and Unionist Party’, or something similar, then I worry. A straight Tory-Labour fight would disenfranchise LibDem voters in Haltemprtice and Howden. Even worse, it would allow the Conservative Party to lay claim to the ground of civil liberties, which is natural LibDem territory. So I hope Nick and Co will get a firm assurance on this point befor they sign on the dotted line!

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