A second open letter to Harriet Harman regarding the Investigatory Powers Bill 2015-16

Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP
House of Commons

10 April 2016

Dear Mrs. Harman,

Further to my letter dated March 8, I would like to express my disappointment at your absence from the second reading of the Investigatory Powers Bill (IPB) on March 15 and, more broadly, at the decision of your party to abstain from the vote. As an ostensibly left-leaning party filling the role of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, I had hoped for a much more vehement and robust defence of civil liberties than that put forward by Andy Burnham MP and your contemporaries in the Commons on March 15.

As noted in my previous letter, the reach of the IPB is far too broad. In an open letter published in the Guardian on March 14, 200 eminent British lawyers argued that the IPB is not fit for purpose, noting that it:

  • “compromises the essence of the fundamental right to privacy and may be illegal”
  • “does not mention “reasonable suspicion” – or even suspects – and there is no need to demonstrate criminal involvement or a threat to national security”
  • “fails to meet these standards [those found in judgments of the European court of justice and the European court of human rights] – the law is unfit for purpose.”

Since you did not attend the second reading in the Commons, I will furnish you with some key excerpts from the few MPs who participated in side of the debate opposing the passage of the IPB:

[Regarding bulk data collection already conducted extrajudicially by the intelligence agencies]: “It is not good enough to say, “We have not had any major disasters so far.” That is the cowboy builder’s approach to our liberties.”

Anne McLaughlin MP

“As a result of the proposals in the Bill, the UK will be the only country in the world to have a policy of capturing and recording every citizen’s internet use. We will be the envy of states such as North Korea, China and Iran.”

Steve McCabe MP

“What the internet connection records will show is a detailed record of all of the internet connections of every person in the United Kingdom. There would be a 12-month log of websites visited, communication software used, system updates downloaded, desktop widgets, every mobile app used and logs of any other devices connected to the internet. I am advised that that includes baby monitors, games consoles, digital cameras and e-book readers. That is fantastically intrusive. As has been said, many public authorities will have access to these internet connection records, including Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and the Department for Work and Pensions, and it will be access without a warrant. Do we really want to go that far? There is no other “Five Eyes” country that has gone as far.”

Joanna Cherry MP

Based on the issues raised in my own recent correspondence and the serious concerns raised by the myriad eminent legal professionals, world-leading technology firms, and civil liberties groups, I would again point out the grave ramifications of the IPB and assure you that these issues are not simply the views and ramblings of a disgruntled constituent.

In closing, I would like to reiterate my disappointment in your lack of engagement on this issue and would like to know how you were otherwise engaged on March 15 during the second reading of the IPB. I appreciate that you have been busy writing your memoirs, but I would implore you to put the work on your lucrative Allen Lane contract on hiatus and instead engage with the utmost vigour in the debate around the IPB at its third reading as and when the date is announced.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Pollock