The Metropolitan Police Service appears to be trying to get hold of email correspondence between Members of Parliament, without first getting a warrant.
Points of Order
2 Feb 2009 : Column 591
David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek further clarification because my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) has been approached by the Metropolitan police and asked for access to e-mails between him and me as Front Benchers of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. Has the Serjeant at Arms been notified of this, and does it come under your ruling that such requests will require a warrant and will be referred to you for your personal decision?
Mr. Speaker: Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that, since the occasion on which the office of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) was searched, approaches have been made to the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman to release certain information?
David Davis: That is exactly correct. I understand that a request has been made for electronic communications--e-mails--between me and my hon. Friend, presumably relating to the time when he worked under me on the Front Bench of the loyal Opposition.
Mr. Speaker: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for bringing this matter to my attention. This is news to me, and I will investigate whether the proper protocol and the procedures that I have laid down for situations without a warrant have been gone through. I will report back to the right hon. Gentleman and, indeed, the House.
Have the Metropolitan Police Service already been given access to the Communications Traffic Data logfiles regarding this , and other email correspondence by these two MPs , by the Parliamentary IT systems people, or by their upstream Internet Service Provider Colt Telecom and/or their anti-spam and anti-virus rmail subcontractor Message Labs ?
Have the Metropolitan Police been trawling through all of the Communications Traffic Data of MPs and their constituents and others, since they are allowed to self authorise themselves to do this, and do not require any "warrant signed by the Home Secretary", let alone a search warrant signed by an independent Judge, in order to do this ?
Will the Speaker of the House of Commons and MPs as whole finally make clear, to the public and to the police, the extent and limits of the supposed protection of Parliamentary Privilege, with regard to the contents of landline telephone conversations , mobile telephone conversations, SMS text messages, facsimile transmissions, emails, instant message chats etc.?
Will they do the same for the collection and access to any Communications Traffic Data, relating to any of the above, or similar, methods of electronic communication ?
Remember the point of Parliamentary Privilege and of the Wilson Doctrine, is to allow Members of Parliament to conduct their democratic duties properly, and to scrutinise and challenge the Executive branch of Government, .This certainly requires that communications between MPs and their Constituents, or communications between themselves and other MPs, which may well be critical of or politically embarrassing to the Government or the Police or any of the other tentacles of the State or any other powerful lobbies and interests outside of Parliament, must be protected from being snooped on.
The Police or intelligence agencies or any other public bodies simply must not be allowed
trawl through Parliamentary emails without a warrant.
There is no point in Parliamentary Privilege applying to just to direct correspondence between an MP and a constituent, or other member of the public, if it does not also protect any later quotation or forwarding of some or all of the original correspondence, especially the identifying Communications Traffic Data, which may very well be enough to betray the identity or location of a whistleblower or complainant.
If members of the public feel inhibited from corresponding freely and confidentially with Members of Parliament, because of disproportionate or political snooping by the Government or the supposedly politically neutral police or intelligence agencies, or foreign government or criminals, then we no longer live in a free, democratic society, and the terrorists will have won.
A couple of technical suggestions:
- Members of Parliament should publish, and use, their own PGP Public Encryption keys to help to protect the confidentiality of their electronic correspondence with their constituents, and with whistleblowers.
- The Parliamentary email systems should be re-configured to allow the use of the standard STARTLS opportunistic email encryption to and from, other email systems which support it.