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Defeating the Draft Communications Data Bill

COUNTER-SURVEILLANCE SUCCESS STORY

Defeating the Draft Communications Data Bill

What: 

Liberty launched a branded campaign called “No Snoopers’ Charter” that showcased the power of communication data to reveal vast amount of private facts about a person. By painting the problem broadly, Liberty was able to engage its’ members, the media, and the public through many different avenues, including through social media channels.

Who: 

Liberty, a civil liberties organization

Where: 

United Kingdom

The Surveillance Practice: 

On June 14, 2012, the UK Home Office published the Draft Communications Data Bill, which proposed the extension of data retention mandates from telecom to Internet companies.The draft bill gave the Home Secretary power to compel internet and phone companies to retain records of our calls, emails, texts, and web visits. The mandatory data retention bill was paired with provisions that allowed the police and intelligence services to obtain these records. The Home Secretary justified the additional surveillance powers by arguing that evolving technology has made it harder for investigators to access communications data in order to conduct investigations. The Home Secretary argued that this inefficiency was the reason that many crimes had gone undetected or unpunished. The draft bill was presented as a means of “protecting” a vulnerable public from terrorists and criminals online. In reality, the draft bill would have violated the privacy rights of millions of innocent individuals across the country.

The Campaign: 

In response to the proposed bill, Liberty launched a branded campaign called “No Snoopers' Charter.”  It painted an accurate picture of communications data in opposition to government claims that communications data is simply anodyne, peripheral information.  Liberty engaged extensively with the media, parliamentarians, and the public. They also provided timely policy responses to government consultations.
 
Through Liberty’s public facing campaign, the organization showcased the power of communication data to reveal vast amount of private facts about a person.  For example, it can disclose who communicates with whom, for how long, and from where. Individuals are leaving a trove of personal information in every call, text, email, tweet, blog and Facebook post. Liberty explained that when this data is compiled and correlated, it reveals a map of a person’s daily routines, relationships, and habits and preferences. In their messaging and media work, Liberty showed that these proposals were not about terrorists and pedophiles—they were about the personal information of an entire nation being exposed and exploited. Liberty made clear that if the government's intention was to address serious crime, it should have adopted a targeted approach, rather than collecting massive amounts of data from innocent individuals. The campaign also provided a great opportunity to engage members through social media channels.

The Strategy: 

Liberty branded their campaign effectively, which resulted in news outlets publicizing and reporting on it in a similar way.  This collective messaging, along with Liberty’s own media and campaigning work, mounted momentum among those opposed to the draft bill.  Liberty engaged extensively with the Draft Bill Committee—set up to conduct pre-legislative scrutiny—and made them extremely responsive to Liberty’s concerns. The committee issued a scathing report, pointing out the dangers the draft bill posed for personal privacy. As a result of this report and broader opposition, the Bill was ultimately dropped from the Queen's speech.
 
This is one step forward in a long-term battle. Liberty is still fighting to stop future reintroductions of similar bills. Just as we write this story, the UK Government successfully passed "emergency" legislation just before Parliament's summer recess when Parliamentary oversight is minimal, which allowed the state to maintain its access to personal data held by internet and phone companies, despite the April 2014 European Court of Justice judgment annulling the European data retention.

Lessons Learned: 
  • Capture the public’s imagination to make them truly understand the issues at hand.
  • Effectively brand a campaign to generate popular support.
  • Provide evidence based policy responses to government consultations.
Resources: 

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