Understanding Julian Huppert MP’s support of Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill

Of all the things I might say about Julian Huppert MP, stupid is not one of them – he’s consistently informed, reasoned and principled. Pretty good qualities of an MP, as I think you’d agree.

This makes his support of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill… surprising.

It seems to be a broadly unpopular stance, which (appears) inconsistent with what one might expect from him. I’m pretty sure we won’t change his mind, but I’m interested to try and understand it from his point of view.

My feeling is that he’s making this decision based on data that is privileged to him which he can’t share with us.

His major contribution to the bill, which legalises wholescale spying (including you Facebook, Gmail) in the UK and expands it to include non-UK citizens, is to make it expire in 2016, after the next General Election.

I think this article in the Guardian goes some way to explaining his point of view, and yet skirts the big questions like “but clause 5 and 6 massively change the scope of the bill” to target people outside the UK.

I feel like I’m going /r/conspiracy, and suggesting that lizards in the rotary club control the world, but one hypothesis for the bill seems less outlandish given the backdrop of Edward Snowden’s revelations about GCHQ and our knowledge that multiple foreign ISPs are suing GCHQ in a UK jurisdiction for spying on them.

My suspicion would be that:

  • Julian has been told this bill will be pushed through whether he opposes it or not
  • He’s been given an opportunity to insert some clauses into it, so long as they don’t alter the ones about interception
  • He may or may not have been told semi-directly by a bunch of security types about how GCHQ is in a precarious legal position which the establishment want to shore up

If we took those things as given, then if you look at his approach from his point of view, it kind of makes sense. I don’t support it. But it makes sense.

I guess we might find out after the next General Election when he can talk freely.

I got a response from Lucy Powell about GCHQ/Tempora…

On the 5th of August I wrote to my MP about Tempora.

My concerns are quite generalised, and my letter format and styling is to be worked upon, however the most important thing was to convey my opinion, and that is what I did:

Concerns about Tempora - Letter to Lucy Powell, 5th August
Concerns about Tempora – Letter to Lucy Powell, 5th August

Today I received a response. Take a read, it’ll only take a second.

Response from Lucy Powell
Response from Lucy Powell

Some points of note:

  • Lucy is recently elected, and could not have personally voted RIPA into law.
  • Parliament is on recess
  • Lucy is currently on maternity leave after giving birth to a new member of her family
  • I like paper responses, in specific cases like this.

It’s quite easy to be disillusioned by a letter like this, but I’m happy with it. The Home Secretary, Teresa May and I will not see eye to eye, but the most important thing about this letter is something that you may not noticed first time through.

I’ve had to blank it out partially, but I now have a reference number, and this reference number means that, rather than simply sitting and waiting for Lucy to hand me a form-letter from Teresa May’s summer intern, about why “GCHQ is important for our national security” and we must “prevent terrorists and think of the children”, what the reference number means, is that I can write back and engage Lucy in the issue more.

Here’s what I have written:

Response to Lucy Powell Tempora page 1
Response to Lucy Powell Tempora page 1
Response to Lucy Powell about Tempora, Page 2
Response to Lucy Powell about Tempora, Page 2

We’ll see what happens.

What I do know is that writing this letter has done more than doing nothing at all, or posting on Facebook about this every day.

Writing to your MP, is quick, easy, and potentially very rewarding.

Why don’t you give it a go?

Due to more GCHQ idiocy, I’ve been compelled to write to my MP again. Your turn?

Due to more GCHQ idiocy and the harassment of Guardian Journalist, Glen Greenwald’s partner, I’ve been compelled to write to my MP again:

Letter to Lucy Powell
Letter to Lucy Powell

Why don’t you have a go?

It’s quick and easy via http://writetothem.com

The less it sounds like you copied and pasted something, the more of a personal response you’re likely to get.

Phone hacking was a big deal. Is Internet interception ok?

A private investigator hacked a schoolgirl and a few celebs’ voicemails, and it caused a public inquiry, it brought a media mogul (previously considered “untouchable”) to be summoned to parliament and forced a historic Sunday newspaper to shutdown.

Tempora: snooping anyone with an internet connection
Tempora: snooping anyone with an internet connection

All because of a few private investigators listening to a few voicemails.

We’ve learned since then, that GCHQ has, (partly sponsored by the NSA) has been intercepting any internet traffic, conversations, phone calls that leave/return the UK via submarine cables (Level3, BT, Vodafone & others have helped facilitate this) as part of a programme called Tempora.

As even a Facebook conversation with my girlfriend will probably go via Sweden, An email via Gmail will go via Irland, and a good deal of other communications will cross borders, we can assume that details of most people’s daily communications are being captured.

The response from the UK Government has been for William Hague to call for the public to have “confidence” in GCHQ and to state that “law-biding members of the public had ‘nothing to fear’“.

They also released a D-notice (effectively about Tempora) which, though voluntary, means that many UK news outlets won’t report on the Tempora. The Guardian clearly is the main exception.

Interestingly, as lots of EU traffic flows through the UK on the way to the US, a lot of European countries, Germany in particular, are less than pleased about their citizens being snooped on – Germany recently nuked a cold war era collaboration pact with the US in protest.

The Federal Commissioner for Data Protection in Germany has called for the former U.S. intelligence employee Edward Snowden to be given asylum in Germany so he can assist with ongoing investigations.. Imagine if the Information Commissioner of the UK said that?!

The striking thing about the story is not the revelations, or the implications, or the speculation of what these tools could/are being used for, the striking thing about the story is how little the public seem engaged in it.

Since the phone hacking scandal caused a public inquiry, and took down a historic newspaper, why is mass interception of everyone’s email, not an issue?

The story needs to be communicated better to the public and we need to work out how we can make people relate to it.

How can we communicate what Tempora means to the masses?

A few of my thoughts:

  • Can the Tempora story be personified? Who has it been used to snoop on? What has it been used for?
  • What is it used for? Who has access to it? Who chooses targets?
  • Can stunts be deployed as a medium of raising the profile of the system? Can airtime and media attention be ‘bought’ by peaceful and legal activist actions?
  • Would street protests help start a movement and help people supporters meet and rally each other on?
  • Would a coalition of NGO’s signing a public letter with several demands or questions help get the media try to answer those questions?
  • How can we make people feel like something can and must be done to stop this?
How can we communicate what Tempora means to the masses?
How can we communicate what Tempora means to the masses?


The Porn Block is not the story. It is a distraction.

The Great Firewall of Kim Jong Cameron is a distraction from the more pressing things.

David Cameron’s Porn Block idea is chilling, but let’s stop for a moment and consider the context, and I’ll explain why I think it is a distraction.

  • MPs are currently on recess.

During the summer, MPs go on holiday, and so MPs and ministers can’t be called to the house to debate or justify their idea. Parties don’t need to react/state their views to things. In addition, some of the MPs that are voices of reason are on holiday and thus not available to shout it down.

  • If it got anywhere neat implementation, it’d be wildly unpopular.

My feeling is that given the statistics in the field I’m aware of, it’d be about as popular as outlawing alcohol.

  • It’s conveniently drawing attention away from other things

Criticism, media attention, activist attention is being diverted to the Porn Block from the other story – that GCHQ is already is monitoring your internet with Tempora and that almost no UK media want to talk about it. “Sex sells” as they say.

Whether deliberate or co-incidental, the porn block is clearly is a distraction. And a very effective one.

The Porn Block: A Distraction
The Porn Block: A Distraction

The problem with the Tempora and GCHQ story – How do we communicate it?

We know we’re being watched by GCHQ.

We’ve found out, via a whistleblower, that in the past few years, mass surveillance, for the purposes of later analysis, has been turned into reality, in the US and in the UK.

The thing is, the general public is largely unphased. It’s barely scraped public opinion. The average person who doesn’t watch the news, might be aware that there was a guy called Snowdon, but would not be aware that the UK government knew who they’d phoned, who they’d emailed, and what the subject lines of those emails were.

Would you be happy to be filmed by faceless figures wherever you went?
Would you be happy to be filmed by faceless figures wherever you went?

The thing is, if I’d suggested this 6 months ago, it’d have sounded like a crazy conspiracy. Even today, it’s only information, pieced together – various sources correlating stories and confirming points, that give me the confidence to say it exists.

But the public doesn’t care, and apart from The Guardian, the UK media isn’t bothered in the surveillance story (perhaps due to this D-notice?) or more probably, due to various bias’s inherent to their organisations.

The problem is: we’ve not communicated it well enough.

We’ve so far not communicated how this means that the Government knows about you. How talking to your girlfriend via Facebook is a lot less private than you might think and that actually, your phone shares a lot more information about you than you think it does.

We have a system so far reaching, that a German ex-Stasi lieutenant said:
“You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true,”

What we need to do now is to work out:

How can we communicate this to people?

How do we communicate Tempora to the people?
How do we communicate Tempora to the people?