Under Surveillance

‘The whole process is a farce’ – Read the outraged responses to the UK Parliament’s refusal to reopen debate of highly controversial new surveillance law

Last November, the UK Parliament approved the Investigatory Powers Act – dubbed the “Snooper’s Charter” by critics – a highly controversial surveillance law handing British authorities sweeping powers to hack into the phones and computers of private citizens.

Shortly after being passed into law, someone named Tom Skillinger started a petition for Parliament to repeal the new law, calling it a “disgrace to both privacy and freedom” – a sentiment echoed by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden and others.


Skillinger’s November 2016 petition to Parliament (source)

According to petition.parliament.uk, Parliament’s Petitions Committee will only consider holding a debate if a petition reaches 100,000 signatures, a number quickly surpassed by Skillinger’s petition in late November.

However, the Committee decided not to debate because the bill was “debated on many occasions in Parliament before it became law.”


The Petitions Committee’s response to the petition

Via my December 21, 2016 public records request to the House of Commons, here’s how members of the public¹ who signed the petition responded to the Committee’s decision:

John Barron
The website states “if a petition gets 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for debate in parliament”. Why then are we being told that the Petitions Committee is overruling this in the case of the Investigatory Powers Act petition?

Yes it has been discussed before but the public is still not happy with the outcome and with over 150,000 signatures, it seems the discussions that have taken place previously have not fully captured the views and expected outcomes of a significant number of people.

Where on your website are the rules about refusing to consider petitions with over 100,000 signatures for discussion in Parliament?² This should be made very clear below your statement about petitions receiving 100,000 signatures being considered for debate on your home page.

And secondly, why are the public’s views on this matter not being shared with Parliament? Something of this magnitude with so much potential for internal and external misuse should be very carefully considered and reviewed for as long as it takes to get it right. And the people whose data is expected to be used should be listened to throughout the whole process.

People should consent to their data being used in this way, this is basic ethical governance. Why is it that we have rigid ethics committees for all other professions but not for politics which impacts not just on a sample of people but on the entire population?

Harold Spritzer
It was my understanding that the government *had* to discuss any petition with over 100,000 responses. Therefore, what is the purpose of the Petitions Committee, when popular petitions, that the government would rather brush under the carpet, are so easily ignored? What is the purpose of democracy when it can be this easily ignored? I ask you to reconsider this decision, and will be bringing this up directly with my MP.

[The same person responding to the Committee’s response that its decision was based on the fact that “the issues had recently been debated.”]

The IPA may have been “recently” debated, however, its worth nothing;

• A previous version of this bill, the “Draft Communications Data Bill,” was previously thrown out. The implication of this bill is very much – if not exactly the same.

• As usual with most technology focused laws and legislation, those that voted on the bill know and understand very little about the law, and have in fact – just chosen to exclude themselves from the law!

Just because a bill has been discussed “recently” does not make grounds to ignore public viewpoint. This law and decision just goes to prove that separate and divide between Parliament and the public is ever growing, treating themselves as “above the law” by excluding themselves from the law, and is simply an attempt to legalise existing illegal behaviour by the government.

Cat Mendoza
So you have decided not to debate the new Snooper’s Charter law. So really the process is a waste of time if you’ve already “debated” a topic, whether we sign the petition afterwards or not? Makes the whole process a farce and you should have this clearly stated at the top of each petition. Maybe something along the lines of “Please do not waste our time with this petition if we have already debated the issue, thanks”.

When matters like this are concerned, the number of times a certain matter is debated is irrelevant. What is important is that over 100,000 people are still not happy about the circumstances to whatever matter is being petitioned. Therefore there is still substantial concern which is not being addressed.

My personal opinion is that if you are adamant that you will not discuss matters that have already been discussed, and therefore it is irrelevant whether people are happy about it or not, that you shouldn’t waste our time with websites that kid that we have a voice and opinion, because “if we already debated it, then we won’t debate it again”. It sickens me.

You may as well shut this website down, as all it really is in practice is a forum for you to track how many people don’t like something as opposed to being a platform to change anything that’s important.

Responses have been lightly edited for continuity purposes.

¹Names have been changed.
²More info about the petitions process available via: https://petition.parliament.uk/help

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