The Tory rebellion leaves Cameron as the new John Major

The PM looks like a weak and defeated leader after last night's vote.

Labour’s plan to embarrass Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems over Lords reform has backfired spectacularly. "Why would we want to hand the Lib Dems a victory?" went the logic of Labour’s decision to two-facedly vote for the Bill but against the programme motion that gave it any chance of seeing the light of day. But what chumps they look now. Nick is left looking like the Miss Haversham of British politics, deserted at the altar of constitutional reform while the groom has a fistfight with his family in the car park. And trust me, everyone always ends up feeling sorry for the jilted bride.

But fear not, Labour MPs. Your war gaming may not have played out just as you expected. But there is a small consolation. You have probably just finished the career of David Cameron, ended any hope of this government doing much else of any worth in the foreseeable, and probably won the next general election to boot.

Cameron looks now like a weak and defeated leader – as the always excellent Jonathan Calder puts it, the new John Major of Conservative politics. Unable to control his backbenchers, he must be gloomily contemplating the hand that fate has dealt him. All over Westminster, Conservative rebels have been drinking the bars dry and celebrating showing the "leadership" – if we can still call it that – who’s boss. "Rebellion is the new cool", I saw tweeted tonight, quoting one Tory backbencher. I’m guessing it wasn’t Peter Bone. But they’ve got a taste for it now, and they know that with enough numbers, they can get the PM to back off. How Cameron must already be regretting his decision not to whip this one properly.

And having got a taste for rebellion, the Tory right will want more, more, more. The snooping bill, EU referendum, a British Bill of Rights. They’ll be clamouring for the lot. But they won’t get it. I doubt there’ll be many Lib Dem MPs willing to hold their noses for Tory policy going forward.

So the rebels won’t get anything they want. And they’ll blame Cameron for that. Ostensibly for not putting us in our place – but really because they’re still furious with him for not winning a majority at the last General Election. And so the rancour and the poison will continue.

And where will it end? Well, we have a Prime Minister, unable to deliver on his coalition promises, under the thumb of rebellious backbenchers, but incapable of satisfying their demands, behind in the polls and all the while becalmed in an austerity driven economy.

Major can probably tell Cameron how this ends ...

David Cameron with John Major in December 2011. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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7 problems with the Snooper’s Charter, according to the experts

In short: it was written by people who "do not know how the internet works".

A group of representatives from the UK Internet Service Provider’s Association (ISPA) headed to the Home Office on Tuesday to point out a long list of problems they had with the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill (that’s Snooper’s Charter to you and me). Below are simplified summaries of their main points, taken from the written evidence submitted by Adrian Kennard, of Andrews and Arnold, a small ISP, to the department after the meeting. 

The crucial thing to note is that these people know what they're talking about - the run the providers which would need to completely change their practices to comply with the bill if it passed into law. And their objections aren't based on cost or fiddliness - they're about how unworkable many of the bill's stipulations actually are. 

1. The types of records the government wants collected aren’t that useful

The IP Bill places a lot of emphasis on “Internet Connection Records”; i.e. a list of domains you’ve visited, but not the specific pages visited or messages sent.

But in an age of apps and social media, where we view vast amounts of information through single domains like Twitter or Facebook, this information might not even help investigators much, as connections can last for days, or even months. Kennard gives the example of a missing girl, used as a hypothetical case by the security services to argue for greater powers:

 "If the mobile provider was even able to tell that she had used twitter at all (which is not as easy as it sounds), it would show that the phone had been connected to twitter 24 hours a day, and probably Facebook as well… this emotive example is seriously flawed”

And these connection records are only going to get less relevant over time - an increasing number of websites including Facebook and Google encrypt their website under "https", which would make finding the name of the website visited far more difficult.

2. …but they’re still a massive invasion of privacy

Even though these records may be useless when someone needs to be found or monitored, the retention of Internet Connection Records (IRCs) is still very invasive – and can actually yield more information than call records, which Theresa May has repeatedly claimed are the non-digital equivalent of ICRs. 

Kennard notes: “[These records] can be used to profile them and identify preferences, political views, sexual orientation, spending habits and much more. It is useful to criminals as it would easily confirm the bank used, and the time people leave the house, and so on”. 

This information might not help find a missing girl, but could build a profile of her which could be used by criminals, or for over-invasive state surveillance. 

3. "Internet Connection Records" aren’t actually a thing

The concept of a list of domain names visited by a user referred to in the bill is actually a new term, derived from “Call Data Record”. Compiling them is possible, but won't be an easy or automatic process.

Again, this strongly implies that those writing the bill are using their knowledge of telecommunications surveillance, not internet era-appropriate information. Kennard calls for the term to be removed, or at least its “vague and nondescript nature” made clear in the bill.

4. The surveillance won’t be consistent and could be easy to dodge

In its meeting with the ISPA, the Home Office implied that smaller Internet service providers won't be forced to collect these ICR records, as it would use up a lot of their resources. But this means those seeking to avoid surveillance could simply move over to a smaller provider.

5. Conservative spin is dictating the way we view the bill 

May and the Home Office are keen for us to see the surveillance in the bill as passive: internet service providers must simply log the domains we visit, which will be looked at in the event that we are the subject of an investigation. But as Kennard notes, “I am quite sure the same argument would not work if, for example, the law required a camera in every room in your house”. This is a vast new power the government is asking for – we shouldn’t allow it to play it down.

6. The bill would allow our devices to be bugged

Or, in the jargon, used in the draft bill, subjected to “equipment interference”. This could include surveillance of everything on a phone or laptop, or even turning on its camera or webcam to watch someone. The bill actually calls for “bulk equipment interference” – when surely, as Kennard notes, “this power…should only be targeted at the most serious of criminal suspects" at most.

7. The ability to bug devices would make them less secure

Devices can only be subject to “equipment interference” if they have existing vulnerabilities, which could also be exploited by criminals and hackers. If security services know about these vulnerabilities, they should tell the manufacturer about them. As Kennard writes, allowing equipment interference "encourages the intelligence services to keep vulnerabilities secret” so they don't lose surveillance methods. Meanwhile, though, they're laying the population open to hacks from cyber criminals. 


So there you have it  – a compelling soup of misused and made up terms, and ethically concerning new powers. Great stuff. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.