Investigatory Powers and Civil Liberties in practice: "Think of Cicero as Al Capone's Pocket Lawyer"

My blog yesterday on the Scrambling for Safety event has been criticised for focusing on governance and safeguards rather than the powers themselves. Perhaps I should explain why.

As a student I joined the National Council for Civil Liberties but left quietly in 1974 or 5 (I cannot remember exactly when) after meetings became pre-occupied with protecting the rights of pederasts.  Until then I had seen nothing wrong with pictures of naked children and thought that paedophilia, as opposed to pederasty, was a little odd, but harmless. Listening to discussions which linked the exchange of photographs to arguments about the age of consent “opened my eyes”. Ever since then I have been almost as suspicious of the motives of those arguing for greater on-line privacy as I have been about those wanting more access to personal communications for the security services.

My views on the need for coherent frameworks covering the use of electronic surveillance to help law enforcement began to take shape when I was organising briefing sessions for MPs during the run up to the original (1984) Data Protection Legislation, including on the audit of activities over pre-Internet global messaging services. Those views became sharper with the reasons for the inability of the police to convict Kenneth Noye for killing John Fordham on top of the reasons why the latter had been engaged in such “close” physical surveillance in the first place. Then came the Alison Halford affair and the IOCA review: largely ignored by the industry lobbyists until it transmogrified into the proposals that led to RIPA.

Since then I have listened to nearly two decades of arguments about the needs of the security services and the concerns of human rights and civil liberties lobbyists. Meanwhile little is said about the practical problems of obtaining reliable and admissable evidence and convictions to protect children or those in living on estates controlled by organised crime. We now also have the problems of “community leaders” using co-operation with local authorities and access to information on lifestyle choices or the location of “runaways” to help them protect “family honour“.

Hence my concern to see more efficient authorisation routines for the security services and mainstream policing and coupled with more effective governance for “other law enforcement” – all within credible judicial oversight for technology neutral processes. Hence the tenor of my own evidence for the Science and Technology Select Committee and to the Joint Scrutiny Committee.

The title for this blog relates to when I was doing “A” Level History with Foreign Texts (a short lived subject in the 1960s). The class was struggling to reconcile the supposed republican ideals of Cicero with a speech (Pro Lege Manilia) in favour of giving the command of the Mediterranean fleet to a brutal (convicted and pardoned) pirate. In the end the Master said “Think of Cicero as Al Capone’s Pocket Lawyer”. It came to my mind during last week’s “Scrambling for Safety”. It does not help that Law Enforcement is so reluctant to give genuine usage cases, lest the information be used to enable criminals to avoid future surveillance.

I do, however, again recommend that you watch the full recording and then take a look at some of the responses to the Select Committee and Scrutiny Committee.

P.S. One of my Christmas Presents was Max Hastings “The Secret War”  which aims to put the code-breaking, spying and espionage triumphs and disasters of all sides into perspective. I have got as far as the revelation that Stalin mistrusted the information he received from the Red Orchestra network during the run up to the Battle of Kursk because parts of the wording was identical to that being “leaked” to him by his spies in Whitehall. The similarity was because one of the supposed Red Orchestra “networks” was actually two teleprinter operators passing the paper tapes from the teleprinters attached to the Lorenz coding machines to Rudolf Roessler instead of destroying them. The breaking of Tunny, culminating with the creation of Colossus was indeed a supreme intellectual triumph but its contribution to the Battle of Kursk may actually have been negative!                  


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