This shredding of the Wilson Doctrine will make whistleblowers think twice

Baroness Jones brought a legal case to challenge the blanket collection of citizens' electronic metadata
Baroness Jones brought a legal case to challenge the blanket collection of citizens' electronic metadata

By Jenny Jones

Speaking to people - be they constituents, campaigners, experts, concerned members of the public, or whistleblowers – is central to any democratic system.

So if people cannot – or are too scared to – speak to their representatives in Parliament, how can any politician, whether in the House of Commons or the Lords, possibly do what they are put there to do?

How can we represent the wishes and desires of the people, if the people feel they cannot speak to us with the safeguard of privacy?


Yesterday's announcement by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, that Parliamentarians’ communications are not protected from interception by the ‘security services’, means in effect that we can all be spied on.

It also means that people who want to report wrongdoing, corruption or illegality to their elected representatives, can't be sure of any protection.

The Tribunal made its announcement – declaring that politicians and the public can be and are routinely spied upon – only because Caroline Lucas MP, my fellow Green Party member, and I, made a legal complaint because it appeared that all electronic communications data sent in or coming through the UK, was being monitored by security services.

This is in direct contradiction to the so-called ‘Wilson Doctrine’ – a promise made by all Prime Ministers since Howard Wilson, including the current holder of the post, that the communications of members of the Houses of Parliament would not be intercepted by the security services.

I was on the Metropolitan Police's Domestic Extremist database for more than ten years, when I was both an elected representative of the people of London and on the Metropolitan Police Authority which exists to scrutinise them.

Although I was offended at the designation; as a politician, I expect to be scrutinised.

But I'm concerned for those people who contact me or Caroline, including campaigners whose lives have been ruined by undercover police spies, and asylum seekers who live in fear of deportation to states where their lives are in danger.

Because the very real danger is that those people, knowing now that they are not protected when contacting us, will now think twice before asking for our help, reducing the likelihood that we can help them, reducing our connection to the people we represent, and reducing the precious first-hand knowledge only they can give us of the challenges they face, and the state of people’s lives across the UK today.

Yesterday's ruling is not just a reminder that we must all be vigilant against continued attacks on our personal rights and liberties, but also a potentially extremely serious threat to the entire democratic and representative system on which our society is founded.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb is the Green Party's representative in the House of Lords and sits on the London Assembly.

The opinions in Politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

Comments

Load in comments
Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.