This letter was published in the London Evening Standard on January 12th, 2015:
I watch with alarm as, in the wake of the barbaric murders in France, politicians seek increased surveillance powers for the security services.
Surveillance is not always wrong; far from it, our democracy has long allowed accountable public servants to temporarily intrude on individuals they believe to be a threat.
My alarm arises for two reasons:
- The powers requested in recent attempts at new law are open-ended and ill-defined. They lack meaningful oversight, transparency or accountability. They appear designed to permit the security services free rein in making their own rules and retrospectively justifying their actions.
- The breadth of data gathered – far beyond the pursuit of individuals – creates a risk of future abuse, by both (inevitable) bad actors and people responding to future moral panic. Today’s justifications – where offered – make no accommodation for these risks.
Voters should listen respectfully but critically to the security services’ requests. Our representatives must ensure that each abridgement of our liberties is ring-fenced:
- justified objectively using public data,
- governed with impartial oversight, and
- guarded by a sunset clause for both the powers and all their data by-products.
If the defence of free speech fatally abrades other liberties we are all diminished.