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Letter to Nick Clegg on the Communications Data Bill

Dear Nick,

As you know, the report of the Joint Committee which considered the Draft Communications Data Bill is enough to chill the blood of any liberal.

It is a significant credit to you personally and our party’s role in government that that committee existed in the first place, and your demand that the bill be sent back to the drawing board following the report was more welcome still.

Reports in the press indicate that you are currently in negotiations with colleagues in the Home Office on the shape of the current bill, and over whether such a bill will be presented at all in the Queen’s Speech.

We write in to call on you to block the Communications Data Bill.

The arguments put forward by the Home Office in defence of the massive expansion in the amount of stored data which they seek simply did not stand up to scrutiny when examined by the Joint Committee. Even with further safeguards, little has changed in recent months to change this conclusion.

The more fundamental problem with such a bill is that it seeks to extend and increase invasions of privacy under the framework of a regulatory regime which has failed time and again. Anybody with an interest in civil liberties should not be seeking to extend the reach of RIPA to new technologies, but should be seeking to reform the regulatory system created by that Act.

Only once access to data on spurious grounds is stopped, and a new, tough, inquisitorial overseer of the system replaces the Interception of Communications Commissioner should any increase in the scope of data that is accessible be considered.

And even then, liberals should be sceptical. Those arguing for the change should be required to meet a high threshold to successfully make their case. And if the companies who would be charged with retaining this vast amount of data say it is not possible to guarantee its security, any proposals should be dropped.

You are right to say that technology presents questions over national security, but the working assumption – for liberals at least – should not be that state snooping should extend to each new area of technology as it develops.

We urge you to use your role to stop the Communications Data Bill and turn the government’s attention to reforming the failed regulatory regime which is already leading to too many invasions of the privacy of the people of the UK.

Yours,

Nick Thornsby and Alan Muhammed on behalf of the Liberal Reform Board