It is absolutely vital that the public get a chance to see and debate the details of any proposals to extend state surveillance, not just being presented with a Home Office fait accompli. It is also essential that the initial plans include adequate safeguards – which should be stronger than the current weak controls.They talk about the "duty … to safeguard basic freedoms against the encroachment of state power" and that at the recent conference (and it was only last month not months ago) conference "called for stronger safeguards on existing surveillance measures to guarantee that the balance of power is firmly in favour of ordinary citizens".
They got it and these are just the sort of firm messages that Nick Clegg and other Lib Dems should have been saying since Sunday when this story reared its head again.
Indeed when the coalition agreement already states "We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason." We shouldn't be talking about extending police powers in this area but working out what comes under good reason and how to delete the storage of the rest.
Speaking in The S** today (and I apologise for this link) Theresa May says:
"I'm not willing to risk more terrorist plots succeeding and more paedophiles going free."
Just how does further encroaching on personal freedom achieve this. As Trefor Davies from the Internet Service Providers' Association states these groups will just go ahead and use proxy servers. As he say by doing so
"You could send emails back and forth to al-Qaeda to your heart's content, the Government wouldn't know."
And as for paedophiles:
"There is a danger we are driving people to an underground culture."
As anyone who uses certain websites whether global LGBT ones or other things for certain human rights discussions will tell you, mirror sites to proxy servers exist even for some of these and you would have no clue simply from the traffic that it generates what is going on. If you even could see the traffic report.
So why haven't us Lib Dems been standing up against this as a matter of principle not merely saying we will make sure that any extension of powers is highly safeguarded. The worry is that extension of powers will be given to the police without supervision. We are looking for greater safeguard on the existing powers while Mrs May says that the police cannot afford to lose any of their existing powers.
There is a red line there, one that is marked out in the coalition agreement. If we don't stand firm on this one, what will become of our party? Worryingly although these 15 have now stood firm, why haven't our frontbench team done it already?