A 'Snooper's Charter'
The Queen announced the coalition's legislative agenda for this parliamentary session, including plans to radically expand the government's surveillance of everyone in Britain, the expansion of secret trials and changes to Defamation law.
"My government intends to bring forward measures to maintain the ability of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access vital communications data under strict safeguards to protect the public, subject to scrutiny of draft clauses."
Using the powers proposed in the Draft Communications Data Bill, the government plans to record the details of every e-mail, including who sent and received it, as well as location data. Messages sent through social media services and chats sent through multiplayer video games could also be recorded.
The Draft Communications Data Bill has faced sustained criticism from civil rights campaigners, ISPs and our Party since its initial airing by the Labour government in 2006. It remains unclear whether the protections suggested in the draft law include the requirement for a warrant and how much access the security services would have to day to day communications information.
Just last year William Hague told the delegates at the London Cyber Conference that there were no excuses for curtailing civil liberties online, "Human Rights are universal. Cultural differences are not an excuse to water down human rights, nor can the exploitation of digital networks by a minority of criminals or terrorists be a justification for states to censor their citizens."
It seems that the government thinks censorship and surveillance are to be condemned abroad but are fine in the UK if the target of such actions is an all too vague notion of terrorists and extremists.
David Cameron warned us in 2009 that "Today we are in danger of living in a control state." Sadly that's every bit as true now as it was under Labour.
"My government will introduce legislation to strengthen oversight of the security and intelligence agencies. This will also allow courts, through the limited use of closed proceedings, to hear a greater range of evidence in national security cases."
The Justice and Security Bill would expand the use of special secret trials in cases in which claims are being made that might have an impact on the UK's intelligence agencies or cause embarrassment to the government, including civil cases like compensation claims and challenges to ministerial decisions.
The coalition wants to be free to hide behind closed court sessions, claiming that closed trials would make government agencies more accountable. We all know that this legislation would make the government and security services less accountable and more likely to act excessively with the belief that their actions would not face public scrutiny.
Real justice should be open and transparent, to ensure that nobody - including the government - is above the law.
Freedom of Speech
"Legislation will be introduced to protect freedom of speech and reform the law of defamation".
The Party welcomes the Government's commitment to reforming our defamation laws. The Defamation Bill is supposed to ensure that there is a proper balance between freedom of speech and protection of reputation.
We believe that the law should ensure that everyone has the right to say what they think and ensure the law isn't used to censor criticism. Scientists and academics must be allowed to perform their work in an arena where they are not subject to expensive and frivolous defamation lawsuits.
Requirements that show actual damages arising from an alleged defamation, moves to remove the chilling effects of current law and protection for operators of services containing user-generated content are all steps in the right direction.
However, the Government should be careful and ensure the law treats the online world no different from the offline. It should resist the calls tempting it to apply overly-harsh measures against speech simply because it is happening via the Internet.
Pirate Party UK