Monday, January 16, 2006



Blair wants to bug MPs

For the past 40 years, the ability of Britain’s security services to spy on its Parliament has been governed by the so-called "Wilson Doctrine" that there should be no tapping whatsoever, whatever the circumstances, of MP's phones - and that any change would require the permission of the Commons. Since its introduction in 1966, the doctrine has been reconfirmed by every successive British government - until now. Under the guise of the "war on terror", Tony Blair wants to overturn the ban, and allow the security services to snoop on MPs.

This is a threat to democracy of the highest order; as a context article from The Independent notes, it is all too easy for such power to be abused. There are no institutional checks and balances on the use of wiretaps in the UK - authorisation is granted by a Cabinet Minister (typically the Home Secretary) rather than independently reviewed by a judge - meaning that there is nothing to stop a government from confusing the "national interest" with its own political interests, or the security services from collecting dirt "as a safeguard" should an MP challenge their interests. With Blair, the risk is likely to be spying on his own rebellious backbenchers and using MI5 and blackmail as a backup to the party whip, rather than targeting the opposition - but given that many of those backbench rebellions are driven by serious concerns over civil liberties, that ought to concern us all.

Fortunately, Blair's "modest proposal" is already meeting with strong opposition, from within Cabinet as well as Parliament. When the Ministry of Defence is against further wiretapping, you know that this is nothing but a paranoid fetish for snooping on the part of the Prime Minister. Hopefully, Blair will be smart enough not to risk putting it to the Commons - otherwise he may himself dealt yet another humiliating defeat by his own backbenchers...

4 comments:

And you dont think this happens now? Only the most naive and trusting souls would believe the so called intel agencies dont have a listen in.These people cant help themselves.I bet the NZ intels have a file on every MP, senior beauracrat and high profile business trade union etc people.What we are told and the reality are 2 different things

Posted by Anonymous : 1/16/2006 02:14:00 PM

I suspect it does - but the ban means at least the British parliament has a leg to stand on when calling for heads to roll.

As for NZ, we share that unfortunate constitutional lack of independent oversight that the British do; interception warrants for the SIS are authroised jointly by the PM and Director-General (though at least there is a requirement for evidence given under oath, unlike the UK where the Minister just has to believe that it is necessary). And this is one of the reasons we should maintain a deep suspicion of our security services and subject them to the closest possible oversight. Unfortunately, our current mechanisms for doing that - the PM, a Parliamentary Committee which meets for only a couple of hours a year, and an Inspector-General who is dependent on the Director-General for resources and therefore not terribly independent - leave a lot to be desired.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/16/2006 02:31:00 PM

I/S:

Well, the "humilation" could run both ways if an enterprising civil liberties group does some compare and contrast with various votes on legislation to extend the powers of the state to "snoop" on everyone else. It's funny how many MPs across the house have got in touch with their inner libertarian when their own privacy is under threat.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 1/19/2006 02:11:00 AM

I worked in the House of Commons for a Liberal MP in the 1980s. Two of our constituents detected a cloud of radioactivity drifting over the city he represented and alerted us. The government denied all knowledge and it was suggested we shut up and go away. Nah. I reckoned a nuclear submarine had vented radioactive gas close offshore and the plume had drifted inland and with help set about asking a series of parliamentary questions that eventualy winkled this admission out of the ministers concerned. At this time, I started to notice strange noises on out House of Commons telephone line and on one occasion heard a fragment of a previous conversation played back. I also came into the office very early one morning around that time and found a stranger rifling my desk. Challenged, she said she was 'replenishing stationery' (bullshit, we always got our own HoC stationery) , pushed past me and fled, never to be seen replenishing stationery again.

Posted by peter : 1/20/2006 12:35:00 PM