Tuesday, 3 April 2012

We don't give the police blanket warrants

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Based on characters by Charles M. Schulz
Should the police be able to gain internet records of terrorists or criminals in order to help them with their job, bring about justice and keep us safe?

Of course they should.

Should they be able to do this carte blanche on their own say so without making the case to either a judge or a Home Office minister?

Of course not and therein lies the problem with the current draft legislation that has been proposed. That is why only last month the Liberal Democrats at conference did call to ensure "that there shall be no interception of telephone calls, SMS messages, social media, internet or any other communications without named, specific and time-limited warrants".

The current scheme apparently under consideration removes the power for police to have that authority to take action. They can do it on their own judgement. This is the same police that take pictures of me on parades and marches of various types in case I might be a terrorist or potential looter. This is the same police that take pictures of me going towards football matches because of course Livingston Football Club has a long history of violence, not!

We don't give the police a blanket warrant to enter home that they wish to do so, nor do we allow them blanket access to any phone line. Yet Theresa May is saying that extending just such a right to social media and email brings it in line with powers that that police already have with phone records. No! It crosses over that line. Retrospectively convincing somebody of the right to access is not the same as acquiring a warrant up front, a warrant is for a specific person, reason and time.

Of course if the police can persuade a judge or minister of the need to intercept someone's communications that is different matter. But they have to persuade them of the need and gain the specific warrant before taking action. They should not have the right to act as judge, arbitrator of need, surveillance officer and arresting officer should the need arise for the latter.

The coalition agreement even upholds this principle that "We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason." We need a better reason that simply because the police think so to extend that right to them. It needs to be backed up by the case by an independent arbitrator of the law. Protecting not only those doing the surveillance but also the right of those the surveillance is carried out on to be assumed innocent until proven otherwise. Mrs May may not like the right of people to be presumed innocent, yet as Home Secretary she has to uphold that pinnacle of UK law or else we all have failed.


I do hope that this illiberal extension of power does not get passed by our Liberal Democrat MPs. If it does I will seriously have to work out how to stand by the words of someone that if our liberties were taken away that we should consider civil disobedience to ensure they are returned, yes those words were from Nick Clegg.

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