Only 4 out of 11 former Home Secretaries publicly support the Communications Bill

The headline for this blog is no more misleading than most public debate on the proposals in the Communications Bill. Now that my attempt to put PRISM and the Communications Bill into context, alongside the other current threats to the Internet as we perceive it, has been quoted on national radio: “I do not see what the fuss is about. I would be dismayed if NSA and GCHQ were not doing such things”, I would like to remind readers of the next sentence in that blog entry: “However, I do not believe it is worth recreating the BT monopoly as part of a vain attempt to expensively prop up a surveillance strategy that is fast becoming obsolete”.

We tend to forget that William Whitelaw, as Home Secretary, presided over some of the key meetings that planned the termination of the Post Office monopoly, not “just” the privatisation of BT as a regulated utility. There was indeed much agonising over the security implications. The IRA was busy murdering members of the government, although the Brighton bomb was still in its earliest planning stages. I note that only one of the five surviving Home Secretaries who served during the IRA bombing campaigns has signed the letter to The Times , though Tom King who was in Downing Street when it was mortared has signed and Kenneth Clarke is in office and is barred from doing so.

When I was organising meetings on the IOCA and RIPA consultations the minister responsible was Charles Clarke, one of the former Labour Home Secretaries who has not signed either. Among those attending the meetings we were several of those who had been involved in the telephone surveillance of the IRA. They commonly had strong views on what was actually needed. I have similarly had my ear bent many times more recently on the need to make much better use of the funds and expertise available than on trying to turn BT back into the equivalent of Tier 1 provider like Verizon in the United States: whether via the thinking behind the Communications Bill or that which conspiracy theorists say is behind the systemic discouragement of investment in alternative communication infrastructures, large or small, organised via BDUK.       

Hence the also the reason why the blog entry quoted on the Today Programme concluded on the need for genuine partnership and a Communications BIll that really does address the obstacles to that partnership: not the re-creation of a mythical past.  

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