Europe and digital rights MEP hustings report – part two

In the middle part of our report from the recent WePromise.EU MEP debate, we kick right off with the topics of the day !

Surveillance

Robert Skelton – Socialist Equality Party

He stated that whistle-blowers have shown the size and scale of surveillance, and the fact that this has given us an understanding that we have no privacy – and this is a wholesale destruction of our fundamental rights. He called, again, for the destruction of the surveillance state, and stated that due to our lack of regulatory powers, it is likely that GCHQ’s projects are far larger in scope than the NSA’s.

He went on to say that the only way to remove the surveillance state is to remove capitalism, and stated that the massive collection of all of our meta-data is un-needed in the fight against terrorism.

Chris Whiteside – Conservative

He spoke about the need to balance the individual’s rights against the need for security, while stating that the conservative party had fought not only against ID cards (and had scrapped the project), but also against longer anti-terrorism detentions. He also spoke about the need for surveillance, but also the need for oversight, and went on to give a story in which a friend was proven innocent by surveillance technology.

Lee Slaughter – UKIP

Lee stated off by stating that the elected officials have forgotten who they work for, stating that there is an outrageous amount of CCTV (mentioning the average person being captured on 30 CCTV cameras on the average day), and stated that all of this surveillance is driven by legislation from Brussels. He also stated that he didn’t have too much of an issue with regards to data collection – he has more of an issue with it being sold, and how it is controlled.

Afzal Khan – Labour

Afzal called for mass surveillance to be stopped, and wants to work towards stronger data protection. He, like Chris Whiteside, talked about the need to balance protection of society against our civil rights.

Jack Allnutt – Pirate Party

Jack spoke about how the Pirate party was the first to come out strongly against Prism, and spoke about how these projects undertaken by GCHQ and the NSA are potentially illegal and lack oversight. He also talked about how the shear amount of data being sifted through potentially stops oversight, and that the oversight given by the Ministers in charge was akin to ‘sitting down to dinner and asking if there is anything wrong’, stating that this is not real oversight.

He also retorted Chris Whiteside’s point on surveillance being used to prove innocence – he stated that in the UK, we have a presumption of innocence, and the concept of surveillance being needed to ‘prove innocence’ went against this.

He then rounded on the point made by Lee Slaughter, that the surveillance is driven from Brussels. He stated that not only did it start under Labour, but in fact that Europe can help reign in GCHQ.

Laura Bannister – Green

Laura stated by saying that mass surveillance doesn’t lead to happiness, and reminded us all that the times when there has been mass surveillance of this kind, were situations like the Stazi under Russia, Nazi Germany, and the ‘Red under the Bed’ scare in America during the cold war. She went on to further this point by stating that hiding projects such as the GCHQ surveillance projects is counter to democracy.

She also spoke about the fact that whistle-blowers such as Edward Snowden give up so much, and that the Green Party had fought (although they lost) to get Snowden asylum granted in Europe.

Whistleblowing

Laura Bannister – Green

Snowden was a whistle-blower, and should be granted asylum.

Jack Allnutt – Pirate Party

Jack stated off that Snowden, as a whistle-blower, should be granted asylum, but so should many others. He stated that we need strong whistle-blower protection, and that while Snowden’s whistleblowing has had the largest impact to date, he is not unique.

Afzal Khan – Labour

Afzal stated that it should be up to the courts to decide whether granting asylum was in the public interest, and he stated that he does not support Edward Snowden.

Lee Slaughter – UKIP

Lee started off by stating that what Snowden did was good, and that we need greater whistle-blower protection, however, as with the UKIP line, he doesn’t believe that the EU should have the power to grant asylum. He does think that Snowden shouldn’t be hounded as he has been, and that Europe’s treatment of him has been representative of the EU as a whole.

Chris Whiteside – Conservative

Chris also put his faith in the court system, speaking about innocent until proven guilty, and the fact that the asylum question should be decided in court.

Robert Skelton – Socialist Equality Party

Robert stated that the EU’s lack of asylum for Edward Snowden showed that the EU is complicit in the massive surveillance projects that are ongoing. He also stated that the NSA has pressured states such as the Netherlands to change laws to allow for mass surveillance to take place.

Afzal Khan – Labour

Afzal came back with one final comment – that he had personally ‘googled’ himself, and found that the US Government had records about him running a session teaching about how to outreach into Black, Minority and Ethnic (BME) groups.

The audience responds

The audience was then invited to ask questions, and I did so, asking about oversight with regards to delegated legislation, such as statutory instruments, that are used to allow surveillance, but do not go through the standard parliamentary procedure, and have no debates or votes on them.

Lee Slaughter – UKIP

Lee stated off by saying that everything should be voted through Parliament, and then mentioned that 84% of all legislation passed in the UK is a result of EU law. (This figure is strongly disputed, and no clear figure can be given)

Chris Whiteside – Conservative

Chris stated off by confirming that I was referring to Statutory Instruments, and stated that they are a legitimate concern, and stated that the degree of oversight on statutory instruments is not enough. He went on to state that the smallest proportion of law is primary legislation (Acts of Parliament), and went on to say that much of the law created by Brussels in the UK is enacted by Statutory Instrument, and that about 50% of UK law is influenced by the EU.

Laura Bannister – Green

Laura started off by stating that while the EU is an elected body, she does see serious issues with regards to unelected law, and her biggest point on this was that many of the treaty laws made are made this way, and are very difficult to get hold of – she mentioned that she had previously tried to get hold of treaty documents on legislation.gov.uk, and had been told that they don’t hold those pieces of legislation.

Robert Skelton – Socialist Equality Party

Robert questioned the mandate of the EU to create laws, and noted the damage that those laws and decisions were doing specifically on the Greek people. He talked about the new taxes and levies brought on by the European Monetary Fund bailout, and stated that not only were these pushed through by the ruling elite, but that the entire design of the European Union is to push down the cost of the workforce. He also stated that we need a democratic revolution to solve these issues.

And then it got a bit more Question Time

A member of the Socialist Equality party then asked a question directly towards Laura Bannister of the Green Party, stating that while the Green Party states that it is against surveillance, why has the Green Party controlled council in Brighton and Hove used the powers given to them under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) a number of times over the past few years?

Laura Bannister – Green

Laura fist stated that she hadn’t heard of RIPA, and then went on to say that she would go away and find out more.

Jack Allnutt – Pirate Party

Jack stated that RIPA, contrary to its name, didn’t so much regulate investigatory powers so much as create new powers given to organisations such as councils. He said that the major issues with RIPA powers are around the lack of oversight, but he could see where the powers could come in useful, with regards to situations where it is inappropriate for the police to act (such as civil matters).

Afzal Khan – Labour, Lee Slaughter – UKIP

Both Afzal and Lee could see that RIPA powers were being abused.

Chris Whiteside – Conservative

Chris started off by saying that real life was messy, and that the big question, that has been posed throughout history, is “Who should guard the guards?”, and followed it up by saying the quote “the cost of liberty is eternal vigilance”. He stated that all parties, on all issues, need to be treated with scepticism to protect our liberties.

He then went on to say that there are issues with RIPA, and there need to be checks and balances put in place – however we need these powers to stop terrorists blowing us up.

Robert Skelton – Socialist Equality Party

Robert started off by stating that we have no oversight in the UK, and less protections than the US has. He went on to state that legislation and powers such as those in RIPA are not only creating a police state, but are indeed creating a fascist state – he finished by saying that even the NAZI party never had this level of surveillance ability.

At that point, Laura Bannister’s partner mentioned from the audience that he had ‘googled’ the information in the question, and not only had the vast majority of search results been about the green party fighting surveillance laws, but that the only result that he could find, on the third page of search results, was specifically about the council and speed cameras in relation to RIPA.

Data Protection – The Right to Erasure

Afzal Khan – Labour

Afzal started with the simple point that it is, indeed, your data, and you should have rights over it. He went further to say, however, that this is not something that has been discussed as of yet.

He went on to discuss the fact that while the NHS data is massively useful, and can have huge benefits if used correctly, the data needs to be truly anonymised, the secretary of state needs to be held accountable, and most of all, it needs to be easy to opt out.

Jack Allnutt – Pirate Party

Jack started by stating that people should have a fundamental right to be forgotten – but not a total right, as their need to be limits. He also stated that this will not purely affect EU countries, as many of the companies with this data are in different jurisdictions, as is the data, which flows across international borders.

Laura Bannister – Green

Laura stated that her party is fighting for the right to be forgotten, but that there is more to be thought out than a simple and pure right to be forgotten – this right needs to be easy to enact. She also said that to some extent, it needs to extend far beyond the realm of the internet, as we need the right to control who has access to our data with greater granularity and security. She talked about how the online form for the election register, to allow you to keep your data from being sold to companies, is only valid for a year at a time – unless you physically write to them. Systems like this need to be reformed too.

Lee Slaughter – UKIP

Lee stated off by saying that we should have a right to be forgotten, but that as well as that, the EU and other bodies shouldn’t have an automatic right to collect your data. He also called to issue the fact that the EU-US trade agreements that are currently being written, will enforce their rules on the UK, such as data movement laws, but the UK government has no way to object, and also cannot debate these laws in Parliament.

Chris Whiteside – Conservative

Chris also stated that we need a right to delete data, but he also said that we needed something else too – the right to see data and correct it.

Robert Skelton – Socialist Equality Party

Robert started off by saying that firstly, everything is a commodity in a capitalist system, including your data, and that this leads to a disregard towards people. He also said that corporations run the government.

Police Databases

Laura Bannister – Green

Laura reminded us that there is a keystone to our justice system – the principal of innocent until proven guilty, and stated that she was currently charged with an offence for protesting fracking at the nearby Barton Moss site.

She said that not only should data be removed form police databases after it has ceased to be relevant, but that these databases affect how people act, and their willingness to protest or act against a government – she stated that databases like those held on the Police National Computer, can squash democracy.

Jack Allnutt – Pirate Party

Jack started off by stating that the DNA database still keeps innocent people’s data, and that this should be removed and destroyed.

Jack also stated that while relevant case data should be kept for as long as it is needed, there needs to be a balance, and that data needs to be deleted as soon as it is not needed – not as soon as it is easy to do so.

Afzal Khan – Labour

Afzal started by stating that he used to be a police officer in Greater Manchester Police, and went on to say that people should, and to the best of his knowledge, do, have the right to have data removed from the police national computer.

Lee Slaughter – UKIP

Lee stated off by saying that databases, and the ability to store, manipulate and mine large datasets was the issue at hand, and that less manipulatable record storage, such as paper based storage, would reduce this risk.

Chris Whiteside – Conservative

Chris stated out by stating that he is a statistical economist by trade, so he has some understanding of these issues. He went on to say that while DNA evidence can be really useful, it can be massively dangerous too – DNA evidence statistics can be misrepresented, and misunderstood even if it is represented to a jury correctly. Chris then went on to say that there is, at least, now legislation around removing your DNA from the database.

Chris went further to say that running quires through huge datasets in databases leads to issues with regards to statistical issues that arise when dealing with such large amounts of raw data.

He went further and said that spent convictions should be wiped from the record, and while there could be issues with regards to incidents such as serial killer cases, what we need are better safeguards, not more data retention.

Robert Skelton – Socialist Equality Party

Robert said the fact that the issue of police databases has to be raised shows that there is a serious problem, and shows a lack of democracy. He went further to say that there are hundreds of employees needed to filter state surveillance, employed by organisations such as GCHQ – he then said that the real solution is to smash capitalism.

At this point Afzal Khan, for Labour, announced that he needed to leave, and gave his closing speech – which will be recorded with the others at the end.

Lee Slaughter – UKIP

Lee went back after a brief question to say that paper records were not particularly what he meant, and were not a UKIP policy – what he was referring to was a way to protect data from being easily traded and manipulated, as it can be in huge databases, and that it was his personal belief that personal data, such as medical data, should be stored locally, at your GP for example, and that paper storage was only an example.

He did say that this could cause issues with technological progress, but his focus was upon stopping private data from being freely traded.

Laura Bannister – Green

Laura replied that the idea of storing all personal data seemed like a strange development, and was glad of the clarification from Lee.

Chris Whiteside – Conservative

Chris talked about the portability of huge amounts of data – data that can be stored on a pen drive, and forgotten at a pub with thousands of records on. He went on to say that what we need is security to protect our data, rather than paper based records at our GP’s surgeries – we need encryption, and other security, as the data is important, useful and relied upon now more than ever.

Jack Allnutt – Pirate Party

Jack stated that data needs to be used purely for the reason it was collected for – nothing else. He went on to say that protection and security around data is really important, and that organisations should work to a simple standard – if you can’t protect it, don’t collect it.

Net Neutrality

Robert Skelton – Socialist Equality Party

Robert stated that net neutrality is crucial, and that freedoms that we have online risk being destroyed by corporations, and that he was opposed to corporations having any say on the governance of the internet.

Chris Whiteside – Conservative

Chris spoke about how he supported a multi-stakeholder approach, and that he supports a public debate about the internet’s future. He also said that he has concerns around legislation on net neutrality, as he works for BT (British Telecom).

Lee Slaughter – UKIP

Lee said that it is bandwidth intensive services that are an issue, and the question that is really being asked, is should companies like Netflix pay for the network to be upgraded?

He went on to say, however, that with issues like this becoming more and more prevalent, we are heading closer to being in a similar situation to the citizens of China, restricted by a similar Great Firewall.

Jack Allnutt – Pirate Party

Jack stated that the net neutrality legislation going through the EU Parliament, while it possibly isn’t strong enough, it needs to be passed. He stated that all services are ‘Over The Top’, stating that we shouldn’t allow ISPs to gate keep, and that the destruction of net neutrality will lead to the stifling of innovation.

He went further in saying that the beefing up of the network has already been paid for, and that the internet service providers don’t need to be paid at both ends. He said that while much of the infrastructure is privately owned, the internet is a public commons, and it needs to be protected.

Laura Bannister – Green

Laura stated that the ISPs must be tempted to start controlling positioning online, and prioritising services, and stated that market forces do not equal public interest.

She stated that it is important to keep freedoms, and that it was important that sites are as accessible as each other – the Green Party’s site is as accessible to a web user as the Conservative site, regardless of the size of the user’s or provider’s pockets.

What are the issues regarding policy makers not understanding the internet?

Chris Whiteside – Conservative

Chris stated that he himself has issues enforcing adult supervision with his two 12 year old children, and that this tech understanding gap is an issue. He went on to say that policies need to be both informed, and sensible.

What are the issues around anti-trust and the merging of internet service providers?

Lee Slaughter – UKIP

Lee stated that there needs to be new interest in the market, but that market forces are needed. He said that what is needed are ways to encourage innovation.

Lobbying in the European Union

Lee Slaughter – UKIP

Lee stated clearly that we shouldn’t trust Europe.

Chris Whiteside – Conservative

Chris stated that we shouldn’t trust any politicians, and called for us to watch them all!

Robert Skelton – Socialist Equality Party

Robert said that it is impossible to regulate a capitalist system, and that that system is going down, and taking the entire system down. He also emphasised that the Socialist Equality Party is not a national party, unlike the others at the debate, but is an international party.

Jack Allnutt – Pirate Party

Jack, almost in shock, had to agree with Chris Whiteside, the conservative. He mentioned the EU “We Promise” charter, that we can use to pressure politicians, and stated that the EU Parliament is just like Westminster, with the same flaws and weaknesses.

Laura Bannister – Green

Laura stated that we should never blanket trust Europe, and stated that an in-or-out vote, at the moment, would be a vote between a Banker’s United Kingdom or a Bankers Europe. She stated that Lobbying is the big issue.

We’ll wrap up the event with the third post shortly as the parties sum up their positions.

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