The Investigatory Powers Bill, which is currently being debated in the Commons, looks likely to pass in this evening’s vote as Labour and the SNP (the supposed campaign partners of Liberty…) have decided to abstain.
That’s a defeat for civil libertarians, whose concerns about the legislation are set out in detail by Big Brother Watch here. But in losing this battle, it seems they may be gaining a powerful ally. The Sun, which a decade ago routinely dismissed those concerned for freedom as the friends of paedophiles and terrorists, has had at least a partial change of heart on the topic. Here’s today’s ‘Sun Says’ leader column:
TORY MPs who care about journalism — and democracy — should today reject the Investigatory Powers Bill as it stands.
We applaud most of it. But it draws too little distinction between spooks working to prevent terrorism and ordinary cops known to abuse spying powers.
If they could be trusted, no innocent person would need to fear their records being stored or even accessed. Yet cops have recreationally used covert anti-terror powers to expose whistle-blowers who have embarrassed them.
Reporters must be able to keep such sources secret. They are the lifeblood of journalism and thus vital for democracy. Giving police more spying powers is a dangerous folly.
They and anti-terror spooks have very different tasks and should have separate powers . . . as they do in Canada.
This isn’t a sudden change – rather it’s the culmination of an uncomfortable awakening on Fleet Street that has taken place in recent years. As I wrote in October 2014, several national newspapers now have first-hand experience of police officers using powers against journalists and their sources that were meant to be used to fight terrorists. The misuse of unlimited police bail to pressure suspects by effectively placing their lives on hold was another heavy-handed tactic that alarmed those who had once argued that ‘if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear’.
Evidently this loss of support from a newspaper which was once a prominent cheerleader hasn’t stopped this particular raft of powers, but it will certainly make it harder to make the case next time.