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Thursday, July 10, 2014 

Every modern scourge tamed, but only if we pass this emergency legislation.

When all sides of the House agree on a measure, you know there's something else going on behind the scenes.  This is an emergency.  Lives are at risk.  Our prime minister doesn't want to be the one to stand up after an attack and admit more could have been done.  This is not about introducing new powers, it's to ensure the authorities can carry on as before.

It's utter crap, but every single time it works. The government clearly hoped it would have another justification to fall back on, as the Graun reported last week. The Intelligence and Security Committee is due imminently to release their report into what involvement the security services had with the killers of Lee Rigby, expected to predictably say they could have done more if they had the precogs seen in Minority Report. Only the ISC report for whatever reason hasn't materialised, meaning the government had to act today regardless to be able to force it through before parliament goes into its summer recess next week.

The excuse is a ruling back in April by the Court of Justice of the European Union struck down the data sharing agreement between governments and providers which allowed metadata to be kept for up to 12 months.  There needed to be far more privacy safeguards in place, said the CJEU.  The wiseacres among you will note April was three months ago; if this was truly urgent, the legislation would have emerged long before now.  Indeed, when Iain Duncan Smith needed to swiftly get an act on statute to deny those on benefits compensation for not being given the information they needed to make an informed choice about the workfare scheme they were sent on, the bill was before parliament in just over a month (and that act, incidentally, has also fell foul of the beak).  The idea the same wouldn't have been the case if this was truly as serious as claimed is ludicrous.

Instead they've waited for the most opportune time to ram through a bill that barely makes any concessions to the ECJ ruling.  Sure, as part of the apparent deal between the Tories and the Lib Dems/Labour we're now due to get a privacy and civil liberties board as an apparent replacement for the current lone reviewer of terrorism legislation, as well as a review of the RIPA legislation that allows for the very existence of Tempora, but these carry as many potential downsides as they do benefits.  David Anderson has been a vast improvement over Lord Carlile, and frankly I'd rather have one decent reviewer than a board of Carliles.  Much the same goes for the review of RIPA: are we really supposed to expect the same politicians who have insisted time and time again that rather than putting in more safeguards we in fact need even wider surveillance to accept any report calling for the former?  Pull the other one.  The sunset clause will therefore provide just the opening the securocrats have been looking for.

Nor will the legislation just reinstate the existing agreement as the government and opposition are insisting.  As Jack of Kent and others have pointed out, it goes beyond what RIPA currently allows.  It will require overseas companies to comply with warrants, where previously the law was hazy on whether it applied to them, while also redefining exactly what "telecommunications services" are far more widely, again removing any room for doubt.  Rather than risk having these changes scrutinised by committee, the government and opposition have connived in the idea of there being a phony emergency, a move most likely needless in any case considering how the majority of the press and the public accept each new dilution of privacy and civil liberties as needed to save us from paedogeddon/bearded fanatics/any thug with a gun/transforming teddy bears.

See, this is why the idea there was an establishment cover up over child abuse at Elm Guest House or wherever else is so difficult to believe.  The odd person with suitably powerful connections can, on occasion, get away with such things.  Cyril Smith wasn't just the subject of rumours for instance as we've seen; there were specific allegations published about him that simply weren't followed up or were squashed with help.  When we're talking about 20 or so high profile figures, as some are claiming, that's a hell of a lot of back covering, involving hundreds of people or more, none of whom were challenged by their conscience into backing up Geoffrey Dickens or taking their concerns to the press or anyone else.  


Moreover, government is terrible at keeping secrets or pulling a fast one: it couldn't do it on this, it couldn't do it on rendition, where the papers that might have confirmed more flights did land at Diego Garcia were destroyed by "flood", and News International couldn't do it to take a corporate example over phone hacking.  This isn't to say there aren't conspiracies to be uncovered, it's we always ought to wield Occam's razor first.  Or just a razor in general when it comes to the aforementioned legislation.

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