back to article UK MPs have right old whinge about ‘defunct’ Wilson Doctrine

Parliamentarians have hit out against a ruling by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) that GCHQ is allowed to collect the communications of MPs, a move which seemingly ends the so-called Wilson Doctrine. Or does it? During parliamentary debate this week, Labour MP Chris Bryant said: "Until last Wednesday, it was thought …

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Big Brother

Whining bastards !

Not so funny anymore when it's happening to YOU now is it ?

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Re: Whining bastards !

You should not expect the "powers that be" to do anything about something that does not apply to them.

Example: libel law. It does not apply on to MPs within the Parliament's building. So rather unsurprisingly, they have not done anything about it for many years. Even the latest (rather feeble) attempt at reforming it is clearly nowhere near where it should be.

Now, imagine all the MPs, being subject to the same libel law as the commoner. Guess how long until it would be reformed in a way where it can no longer be used as a weapon to bankrupt someone you do not like by making him pay the court fees all the way to the top.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Whining bastards !

Only when Royalty starts getting covered in shit the rest of us (nod to MP & the Holy Grail) only then do they start doing something about it.

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Re: Whining bastards !

"Example: libel law. It does not apply on to MPs within the Parliament's building."

Think that one through. Let's way you have an issue about something but you lack the proof which would stand up in a court of law or, even if you have proof, you couldn't afford to defend yourself against libel. So what do you do? You can take it to your MP. Would you really think it a good situation if they were to respond that they're bound by the same rules as you? As things stand they can raise such issues in Parliament or with a minister and not be stuck with the limits you have.

It's part of the toolkit that enables a good constituency MP to work on behalf of constituents.

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Re: Whining bastards !

Now, imagine all the MPs, being subject to the same libel law as the commoner.

That's not a very good example. Defamation laws don't apply to MPs on the floor of the Commons for a very good reason: it would be impossible for an MP to bring up some contentious subjects and for Parliament to debate them. Remember the recent difficulties over super-injunctions?

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Re: does not apply to MPs

I seem to remember that it used to be that that was only the case if whatever was said was prefaced by the phrase "without prejudice" as in "may I say without prejudice that my honorable opponent is espousing views that indicate he is unquestionably criminally insane and a danger to the public good".

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Re: Whining bastards !

Example: libel law. It does not apply on to MPs ...

Neither does it apply to witness statements in a court, Google John Ward.

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Re: Whining bastards !

Actually Google is not your friend here - I can't find him. His daughter, Julie, was murdered in Kenya and the investigation was, er, less than adequate. As I recall he failed to pay his rates and was eventually summoned to court in the UK. Having taken the oath in the witness box he then accused named individuals of the murder before the judge or barristers could stop him.

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Re: Whining bastards !

Defamation laws don't apply to MPs on the floor of the Commons for a very good reason

That supports the OP's thesis, since if those laws did apply to Parliament, Parliament would thus be forced to reform them into something sensible.

One law for the politicians and another for the common folk is a dismal substitute for having well-designed laws apply to all.

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Anonymous Coward

Maybe

"Members of this House are not above the law or beyond the scope of investigatory powers,"

For that, in a civilized country, there is an official procedure. It is called "removal of parliamentary immunity". Once this has been done you can apply the investigatory powers as much as you wish.

AFAIK, the whim of Josephina Vissarionovich May does not quite match the description of that procedure in a democratic country.

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Re: Maybe

The only legal parliamentary immunity in the UK is against libel and slander for things said in the chamber, which is how it should be. In countries where individuals get more general immunity because of their jobs, removing it or not becomes a political decision and so all it does is protect political corruption.

The Wilson Doctrine falls into this poisonous category, as it makes Parliamentarians into a privileged elite.

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Re: Maybe

"The Wilson Doctrine falls into this poisonous category, as it makes Parliamentarians into a privileged elite."

So if you raise a matter with your MP are you saying that it should be open to GCHQ to snoop on them as you deal with it?

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Re: Maybe

>So if you raise a matter with your MP are you saying that it should be open to GCHQ to snoop on them as you deal with it?

Especially if that matter is evidence of criminality by GCHQ (or other spooks).

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Re: Maybe

So if you raise a matter with your MP are you saying that it should be open to GCHQ to snoop on them as you deal with it?

Exactly the opposite.

GCHQ should not be permitted to spy on anyone, whether they are an MP or not, without solid justification which has been scrutinized and approved by an impartial authority. The identical mechanism should apply to everyone.

You can't have a "don't spy on MPs ever'" because there are occasionally good reasons for doing so. For example Czech intelligence archives from the Cold War period revealed that Raymond Mawby MP (now dead) sold information to them, and a Czech defector claimed that John Stonehouse MP (also now dead) had too.

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Re: Maybe

Exactly the opposite

Indeed. The obvious solution is to strike the Wilson doctrine, and then rein in the police state. Unfortunately Parliament has shown no inclination to do the latter. (We have much the same situation here in the US, of course.) Perhaps overreaching by other branches of government will encourage them to do so, though I don't have much hope for it.

Historically, in the US, what we've seen is a cycle, with a period in which a lazy, idle, fearful populace supports increased surveillance and repression in the name of "safety" is followed by one where the lazy lose interest and political agitation repairs some of the damage and ushers in some new protection for civil rights. Then the pendulum swings back. How long this can continue is anyone's guess.

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A "number of misconceptions"

I bet the "misconceptions" she talks about are her suggesting the MPs think they're being specifically targeted and she wants to say it's okay because it's mass surveillance. Which is a rather bizarre argument to my mind. It reminds me a quote from Saint Yossarian of Catch-22 fame:

"They're trying to kill me," Yossarian told him calmly.

"No one's trying to kill you," Clevinger cried.

"Then why are they shooting at me?" Yossarian asked.

"They're shooting at everyone," Clevinger answered. "They're trying to kill everyone."

"And what difference does that make?"

So really, Theresa May, what difference does it make? I don't say "oh, I'm okay with being spied on and having all my communications scanned because they're doing it to other people too", and I don't think the MPs will be either. But I bet that's the play Theresa May is trying to make here. How do I get out of this Joseph Heller novel? There's a lovely Terry Pratchett book the next shelf over that I'd much rather live in.

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Thumb Up

Re: A "number of misconceptions"

Excellent, Have an upvote.

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Go

"If I can't be above the law...

... then why the hell did I become an MP?!"

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g e

Boo Hoo

Hello. Welcome to OUR world.

Not so smug now, eh?

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Anonymous Coward

Surprise, surprise

As long as common plebs are being subjected to surveillance, that's okay. But for MPs (elected, privileged plebs, so to speak) it's obviously not.

Pathetic whiners, but not at all surprising. Maybe get your lazy MP arses out of the ivory tower and join real world every once in a while? Why on earth shouldn't MPs be treated the exact same way as their constituents? Nothing to hide and all that.

I welcome the IPT's decision, and I'm having a laugh while MPs finally realise the scope of what they (or their predecessors) have created.

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Re: Surprise, surprise

@AC

I am not going to run to defend an MP but David Davis when it comes to matters like this has a track record of being against surveillance and government snooping, just saying

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Re: Surprise, surprise

"David Davis ... has a track record of being against surveillance and government snooping"

He was front runner as Tory leader but they chose a Blair-alike instead. A big missed opportunity.

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Re: Surprise, surprise

I listened to Davis and Cameron on the radio during the leadership race - Davis came across as a much better candidate. I guess it's similar to how Kennedy "won" the debate against Nixon with the viewers, whereas Nixon "won" with the listeners.

The problem is that he's bloody boring - exactly what I want in a politician - which counts against you in this era of X-Factor style politics.

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Re: Surprise, surprise

He *won* the tory leadership, but it turned out that First Past The Post was another system they thought was excellent for everyone else and not for themselves, so it went to a second round of voting.

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This post has been deleted by its author

Don't you mean every expense claim to the limit?

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It takes time

It may be slow but realisation of what's happening is gradually spreading. At some point it will become unsustainable to maintain indiscriminate surveillance contrary to the weight of public opinion. Now that MPs in general are included in the weight of public opinion that point might have become a good deal closer. We're getting there, one step at a time.

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So...

I take it that certain members of the house will have their doors knocked on regarding visiting certain pornography sites then....?

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/09/04/mps_binge_on_smut_theyre_trying_to_ban/

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Well if those MP's have nothing to hide...

Then they've got nothing to fear surely?

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"Members of this House are not above the law or beyond the scope of investigatory powers"

Anyone want to bet on this statement coming back to bite her, or other chums in the party ?

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Re: "Members of this House are not above the law or beyond the scope of investigatory powers"

She'll be alright, just as long as she keeps increasing GCHQ's and MI5's budgets year on year...

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Re: "Members of this House are not above the law or beyond the scope of investigatory powers"

"Anyone want to bet on this statement coming back to bite her, or other chums in the party ?"

nah, it won't apply to members of the cabinet.

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Re: "Members of this House are not above the law or beyond the scope of investigatory powers"

Sounds rather uncomfortably threat-like though, doesn't it?

Very faint yet unsettling 'Totalitarian' whiff about it somehow.

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Big Brother

The MPs seriously missed the point

If the spooks don't intercept every electronic misdeed by an MP how are they supposed to blackmail them into voting for yet more spook power and funding?

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"How are they supposed to blackmail [the MPs] into voting"

This is exactly the issue at stake: How much secret police can a democracy afford?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The MPs seriously missed the point

at last, people that understand the point.

Also of course it's about the ruling party using spying to obtain information on the opposition (internal or external to the party) to strengthen their reign on power.

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Re: The MPs seriously missed the point

Case in point, MI5 infiltrated the UK Green Party some years back - that's a matter of record. Power seeks to preserve itself.

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I don't like that I am spied upon by my state, and that parliamentary representatives allowed this, but this is more important than schadenfreude.

When people have legal problems and the judiciary fails them then they complain to MPs. When your state acts illegally and you want to blow the whistle, then you should be able to write to your MP.

Politicians, doctors and lawyers need special protection from state snooping, not for their sake but for our sake.

Now the state has pointed out that they don't and won't respect that. Activists already knew that the state breaks it's own laws, I once discussed this with the local top cop and he stated honestly "If we can do it, we will do it" - an open admission of illegality that he was utterly fine with making.

Technologists - techies - need to protect these people especially from the NSA/GCHQ, because laws alone have failed to do that. I personally have suffered from my data leaking from the NHS and my MP, so I'm sure it is common.

You can't have a functional democracy without privacy.

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Well said, Danny. It's nice to see that somebody else sees it.

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But that's the problem with the Wilson Doctrine - it singles out a single section of society and puts them above the rest. What happens if you need to discuss your whistle-blowing with a confidante before going to your MP - shouldn't you be protected then? If you're concerned about your communications being intercepted, then you're a fool for even believing that a letter/email to your MP is safe.

I was always under the assumption that the Wilson Doctrine was a gentleman's agreement, and therefore taken with a pinch of salt. What's more likely to happen now is that MPs will want to grant themselves legislated immunity, which will leave an even more bitter taste in our mouths.

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Anonymous Coward

What Wilson said/meant

Going by the record was

The spooks (and special branch?) wouldn't normally intercept (at the time that meant read/listen to) MPs communications

but

If the government did wanted to change policy they would do so, and tell MPs when they wanted to.

So I guess, government (of many hues along the way) has changed its mind as to its OK recording who MPs are communication with but (they say) not necessarily the specific of opening the virtual envelopes to see what the contents are.

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Re: What Wilson said/meant

There were theories at the time that Wilson only got agitated about spookish spying when he discovered that they were in fact keeping an eye/ear on HIM. There was some suspicion in their upper ranks that Wilson could be a Soviet 'sleeper'.

'The Wilson Discovery' shortly thereafter became 'The Wilson Doctrine'.

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Taking things logically quite a bit further .....

“[Parliament] should be unsurprised that agencies use their powers to the limit. If I were working for MI5, MI6 or GCHQ, I would use every power that I was given to the limit, just as I would if I were a policeman," he added. "The tendency is to stretch the limits or for those limits gradually to move.” …. Tory MP David Davis

Methinks it should most definitely be the case, for if it is not then surely are security services rendered quite farcical, that if I were working for MI5, MI6 or GCHQ/FSB/NSA/Mossad/PLA Unit 61398 etc., I would use every power that can be thought of, and can be securely and/or secretly enabled to the limit and beyond, in order to achieve and maintain an overwhelming advantage. And those sorts of powers are invariably never given, they are ones which one assumes and activates with practically/virtually everyone presuming such a facility and capability, virtually/practically impossible and most improbable.

And indeed, in deed, it would not be wrong to view them as Special Powers.

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Fair enough

If anyone deserves to have their communications monitored it's the people who work for us. In fact perhaps their comms should be made publicly available in real time, to avoid thousands of FoI requests every minute.

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Re: Fair enough

So if you raise something with your MP it should be a matter of instant public record no matter how confidential the subject? Are you sure you've thought that one through?

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Re: Fair enough

As a taxpayer I would like to see a breakdown of how much time my MP is spending on confidential private/consulting work for you or any other individuals or organisations. I would then expect the MP to cross-charge you directly for any time spent on confidential matters that are of no benefit to other constituents :P

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Re: Fair enough

I don't think you realise what an MP's job is in relation to their constituents.

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Anonymous Coward

All hail the GCHQ

Leadership by proxy is still leadership.

.

Quick mental exercise, would parliament be able to disband GCHQ and have the staff transferred to non-intelligence jobs?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: All hail the GCHQ

You mean by using a containment dome like has been done at Chernobyl?

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Re: All hail the GCHQ

"Quick mental exercise, would parliament be able to disband GCHQ and have the staff transferred to non-intelligence jobs?"

Depends if you mean from the legal point of view or actually doing it?

To actually do it, you'd have to somehow organise the required parliamentary shenanigans without letting on to GCHQ. If they knew about it, they'd be able to do a Sir Humphrey-like civil service judo move on you.

If they didn't know about it, or weren't able to execute the avoidance manoeuvre, then they weren't worth keeping anyway...

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