Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has accused Shami Chakrabarti of “selling out” on civil liberties after it emerged that Labour would abstain on a key vote on the Investigatory Powers Bill.
The bill, which would expand government powers to intercept private online conversations, returns to parliament on Tuesday.
The Lib Dem leader has accused the new shadow Attorney General of selling “the final bit of her credibility”, by preparing to “wave through” legislation she previously railed against in her role as director of pro-civil rights group Liberty.
“Shami sold her principles to get a peerage and has sold the final bit of her credibility in accepting a shadow cabinet role in a party which plans to sit on its hands and wave through the deeply illiberal and intrusive Investigatory Powers Bill”, Farron said.
“What really smarts is that she has spent her whole career attacking others for doing the craven thing she is about to do. She is now central to a party that is not fit to call themselves an opposition party. Shame on her – I actually thought better of her.”
In her former role as Director of Liberty, Chakrabarti was deeply opposed to the so-called Snoopers’ Charter.
Writing in the Morning Star in November, she called it “extraordinarily intrusive” and said “we need to tell our MPs that we won’t stand for a Bill that makes us less safe and far less free”.
In the same month, in a blog for Liberty, she wrote: “We must now look to Parliament to step in where Ministers have failed and strike a better balance between privacy and surveillance.”
In February, calling for the bill to be re-written, she said “The government needs to pause, take stock and redraft – to do anything else would show astonishing contempt for parliamentarians’ concerns and our national security”.
In the same month, she told HuffPostUK: “This report shows just how much homework the Government has to do on this landmark legislation. Despite reams of evidence from the Home Office, the Committee finds the case for unprecedented powers to bulk hack, intercept and collect our private data has not been made”.
In March, she called existing amendments to the Bill “minor botox” which “had not fixed” it, and in June, she said challenging the bill would involve “real attention and effort from parliamentarians across the parties”.
In a recent lecture to Hertford College, she said: “The spooks call it the Communications Data Bill and we call it snoopers’ charter. Words are so important in defence of human rights.) There were occasionally debates about pieces of draft legislation that might have been adopted to allow for greater pieces of blanket surveillance for all sorts of laudable reasons like fighting terrorism and online child abuse and so on. But those bills did not pass. And they were doing it anyway”.
Labour sources in the Lords told HuffPost UK that they saw the Lib Dem move as little more than an attempt to embarrass Chakrabarti.
A Labour Lords source told HuffPostUK:
“Due in part to the great work of Keir Starmer in the Commons and our Shadow Home Office team in the Lords, the Bill is in a much better place than it was earlier this year. The government has clearly listened to our concerns, tabling over 250 amendments in response. We will of course, continue to press for further changes as the Bill progresses through Report stage this week and next.”