03 June 2008

The electronic surveillance charter

I was disappointed to see that Jack Straw is hiding information again, and clearly frightened to answer Andrew Mackinlay's legitimate question about whether he was bugged while visiting me in prison several years ago now:

Andrew Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice whether the discussions held between the hon. Member for Thurrock and his constituent Michael John Smith at Full Sutton Prison, York on 1 September 1999 and 30 July 2001 were covertly (a) recorded, (b) transmitted and (c) monitored in some other way by or on behalf of any Government Department or agency; and if he will make a statement. [205648]

Mr. Straw: It is not our policy to confirm or deny surveillance operations in prisons. Since the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000) came into force, all forms of covert surveillance are subject to a strict and rigorous statutory regime for authorisations, and are conducted in accordance with the guidance set out in the statutory Codes of Practice. Independent oversight is provided, and is overseen by the Office of Surveillance Commissioner. The Investigatory Powers Tribunal was established to investigate and rule on any complaints.

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made clear in her statement on 21 February 2008, Official
2 Jun 2008 : Column 650W
Report, column 536, Sir Christopher Rose's inquiry into the surveillance of visits at Woodhill prison found

“no trace in recent years in prison records or anywhere else of any person known to be a Member of Parliament having been monitored during a prison visit”.

Well, there we have it then, something that happened 7-9 years ago is still considered a State Secret. Clearly we have the justification for a "Buggers Charter" here, without any public oversight. What better example of how far the surveillance society has reached than this scenario: inside a maximum security prison, a Member of Parliament can meet privately with his constituent to discuss sensitive legal and political matters concerning his case, but the authorities can listen in and use that information without the need to tell anybody that it happened.

What Mr Mackinlay was asking about took place in 1999 and 2001, but it now appears that the intelligence services want to snoop on us wherever we are. More recently it has just come to light that Andrew Mackinlay has been watched even within the House of Commons, while going about his normal parliamentary business. I am sure this incident is not an isolated case, and that probably every single Member of Parliament has been under surveillance by the intelligence services.

So much for all the codes of practice and regulatory safeguards - we have seen what use these are in other cases. Just consider where this could lead to: councils may even use the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to spy on ordinary families - well that could never happen in Britain, could it? No, I am afraid everybody is within the tentacles of those secret prying eyes, whether they be from the Security Service, or some other public authority with a "need to know" what we are doing. It is very prophetic that George Orwell was an Englishman, and that his idea of controlling animals in a 1984 style Soviet Union has now come true in our free and democratic United Kingdom.

Let's all cry out ... "Long Live Big Brother Jack Straw !!!"