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Simon Phipps

With a focus on open source and digital rights, Simon is a director of the UK's Open Rights Group and president of the Open Source Initiative. He is also managing director of UK consulting firm Meshed Insights Ltd.

Communications Data Bill: Their secrecy, your verdict

You can't dismiss this outcry against secrecy as a chain email

Article comments

When the Communications Data Bill was open for public review, a number of organisations encouraged their members to write to the government about it. Unsurprisingly, many did. So many wrote comments that the clerk to the Joint Committee in the House of Lords chose to summarise them rather than provide them to the committee.

I wondered what the content of that summary said, so I sent an e-mail asking the Clerk of the committee for it. In reply, I was told "The paper summarising the comments is confidential to the Committee". Since I found that surprising, I then used WhatDoTheyKnow.Com to submit a Freedom of Information request. In response to that, the Committee has now published the summary via a link in the original page (original PDFlocal copy).

I am rather concerned by the approach they have taken here. I can't comment on the responses from 38 Degrees members, but certainly my own submission through the Open Rights Group form was in no way a "Chain E-Mail". I wrote my own words in my own way, and simply used the ORG site as a convenient way to submit my comments. By treating all submissions entering via this route as if they are identical, my personal outlook has been swept under the carpet.

All the same, the note is revealing. It makes clear that Select Committees have received mass mails before, but this issue is unique. In the words of the Clerk to the Committee:

The distinction is that while in the case of [the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill] opinion was fairly evenly divided, we have not seen a single email supporting the draft Communications Data Bill, or even agreeing that there may be a case for the security services and law enforcement agencies having greater access to communications data than they do at present

This is an important observation, and one the Select Committee needs to consider with special regard and concern. The Communications Data Bill arises not from the government's policies or manifesto promises but from the desire of the UK's intelligence services to have no inconvenient legal barriers or due process standing in their way. Informed citizens are horrified. I hope these politicians remember who elects them...

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