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.

CCDP: TL;DR – A quick summary

As Andy Robinson, the founder of the Pirate Party said:
“This story looked for all the world like an April Fool’s joke: Labour’s plan for a massive surveillance programme that would dwarf anything dreamed up by the KGB, brought back to life by its opponents?”

You may not have heard but the Tory and Libdem governments announced the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP) on April first.

This must be somewhat frustrating for Conservatives like David Davis and Lib Dems like Julian Huppert both of whom are known to have strong views on reducing online surveillance and now have to work to persuade their own party’s that this is a bad idea.

James Firth – the tech blogger with ears in all the corridors in Whitehall, in fact warned of these proposals warned of proposals along these lines last year. From a political point of view, this is quite interesting as this is largely a piece of legislation that Labour proposed in their third term which Tory’s and Libdems campaigned against.

For this reason, the Open Rights Group already has quite a detailed article on what we suspect the proposals will entail.

James Blessing from the ISP Association explained that when this was looked at last, the costs were prohibitive – we’re talking billions of pounds. Personally, I can’t see that this would be a sensible option, given the current funding climate.

James Blessing from the ISPA on BBC News