Queen's Speech 2012: 'Snooping' Plans Attacked By Civil RIghts Groups

09/05/2012 12:31 | Updated 09 July 2012

Controversial "snooping" proposals and plans for more court hearings in secret will go ahead "allowing no scrutiny for them and no privacy for us", campaigners said today.

Politicians of all parties should remember the values everyone is supposed to share before pushing through the reforms, civil rights group Liberty said.

Plans to enable courts to sit behind closed doors when considering issues of national security and powers to monitor emails and internet communications will all be part of the Government's programme of reforms in the next 12 months.

Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty's director, said: "Two years ago, the coalition bound itself together with promises and action to protect our rights and freedoms.

"As the strains of governing in a recession begin to show, politicians of all parties should remember the values that we are all supposed to share.

"Whilst action on free speech is extremely welcome, proposals for secret courts and a snoopers' charter risk allowing no scrutiny for them and no privacy for us."

Under the draft Communications Data Bill, authorities would not be able to view the content of email and text messages, but could identify who someone was contacting, how often and for how long, and could also access internet browsing history.

The Government has said the plans are needed to tackle crime and terrorism and to ensure the police and security services can keep pace with developments in technology.

But they have already exposed tensions within the coalition over its stance on civil liberties.

The communications data will be kept for up to 12 months by service providers and the role of the Interception of Communications Commissioner will also be extended to oversee the collection of the data.

The Justice and Security Bill will also reform the way sensitive evidence from the security services is handled in national security cases.

Under the moves, a defendant or claimant and their lawyer would be barred from the closed part of the hearing, removing the adversarial nature of the justice system and leading to fears that evidence may not be tested properly and miscarriages of justice could take place.

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has said the powers were needed to ensure other countries, particularly the United States, were happy to share intelligence without fear of it being exposed in British courts.

It is also designed to ensure courts can fully consider all the evidence in civil claims made against the Government to prevent it being forced to settle cases which it believes has no merit.

It follows secret multi-million pound payouts to 16 terrorism suspects, including former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed, last November after they claimed they had been mistreated by security and intelligence officials.

State Opening Of Parliament 2012

Nick Pickles, director of the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: "The Home Office have been very good at saying what the problem is, but seem intent on keeping the technical details of what they are proposing secret.

"Is it any wonder that the public are scared by a proposal for online surveillance not seen in any other Western democracy?

"If someone is suspected of plotting an attack the powers already exist to tap their phone, read their email and follow them on the street.

"Instead of scaremongering, the Home Office should come forward and engage with the debate about how we improve public safety, rather than pursue a policy that will indiscriminately spy on everyone online while the real threats are driven underground and escape surveillance."

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public.

"We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes.

"Communications data has played a role in every major Security Service counter-terrorism operation over the past decade and in 95% of all serious organised crime investigations.

"It is vital to law enforcement, especially when dealing with organised crime gangs, paedophile rings and terrorist groups."

The Queen said the plans would be brought forward, "subject to scrutiny of draft clauses".

It comes after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made clear the proposals could only proceed if they took into account and protected civil liberties.

Clare Algar, the executive director of Reprieve, warned the introduction of closed courts "will put the Government above the law".

"The proposals for secret justice would massively skew courts in favour of ministers, and prevent the public from finding out the truth about serious wrongdoing," she said.

"The reality is that these plans are designed to spare the intelligence agencies embarrassment. They are a recipe for unfair and unaccountable Government."

09/05/2012 16:59 BST

Labour was 'hyper-active', according to George Eustice

Conservative MP George Eustice has told the BBC that the problem with Labour was its "hyper-active legislation"

"They spent ages bringing in bills that were badly thought through sand then they needed to use sessions to undo what they’d done and reverse the mistakes they’d made," he said.

“I think this government had a full session, a very long session – two years – some very big pieces of legislation went though, and I actually think it’s right that you don’t just jam the programme with endless legislation for the sake of it.”

09/05/2012 16:24 BST

Zac Goldsmith fears retreat on MP recall

The government has been accused of quietly rowing back on political reform by omitting plans to introduce the power to recall MPs mid-term from the Queen's Speech.

Tory backbencher Zac Goldsmith questioned why a Bill was not mentioned in the list of legislation announced on Wednesday morning.

"So where was the promised Recall Bill in the Queen's speech? How can Government expect to 'rebuild trust' if it so casually drops key promises?" he said.

09/05/2012 16:07 BST

Is Cameron saying lobbying reform has been delayed till next year?

@ ChrisMasonBBC :

David Cameron dismisses lack of bill on lobbying in the Queen's Speech, saying there will be another Queen's Speech next year.

09/05/2012 16:03 BST

PM: My government is doing what this country needs

The Prime Minister has mounted a robust defence of his government in the House Of Commons.

He said:

"This is a government that confronts the long-term challenges that we face, and that is what our country needs. A government that rolls up its sleeves to deal with the deficit, not an Opposition that thinks you can borrow your way out of debt."

"A Coalition government that is determined to unleash the private sector, spread growth around our country, sort out our financial services. Not a Labour one that bloated the public sector, sat back while an unregulated banking sector brought our country to its knees."

"A government that is backing hard-working people, not an Opposition that says it’s on their side but refuses to make work pay, refuses to cap welfare and wants to heave debts onto our children."

"This is a government that is taking the tough decisions to help families who work hard and do the right thing. Acting for the long term, governing in the national interest, this is a Queen’s speech to rebuild Britain, and I commend it to the House."

09/05/2012 15:53 BST

Graham Jones MP says Cameron is 'dying on his feet' in the Commons

@ GrahamJones_MP :

Cameron dying on his feet talking about the Queens Speech. Uninspiring. Punch drunk from the omnishambles.

09/05/2012 15:48 BST

Andrew Gwynne MP thinks Cameron is just waffling...

@ GwynneMP :

The PM's response to the Queen's speech debate is waffle. Ed M is obviously still buzzing from the elections. He was at his very best today!

09/05/2012 15:41 BST

Chi Onwurah MP attacks Cameron's 'emptiness'

@ ChiOnwurah :

@Ed_Miliband really nailed the emptiness of a Queen's Speech which doesn't mention jobs & does nothing to create them

09/05/2012 15:35 BST

Cameron summarises his government's agenda...

"It is about a government taking the tough long-term decisions to restore our country to strength, dealing with the deficit, rebalancing the economy and rewarding people who do the right thing."

09/05/2012 15:35 BST

Cameron defends the 'Snoopers' Charter'

Speaking in Parliament, the Prime Minister has defended proposals that have caused controversy for their apparent invasiveness.

“What we are trying to do here is not look at the content of people’s telephone calls, but just to update the measures for finding out who called who and when

“I say to people, of course let’s look at the detail, but I don’t want to be the Prime Minister standing at this despatch box saying ‘we could have done more on terrorism’.”

09/05/2012 15:22 BST

Miliband - endorsing Nadine Dorries?

@ IanDunt :

Miliband wants Nadine Dorries on the government's remuneration committee http://t.co/y9vH2Nro #QueensSpeech

Suggest a correction