UK citizens spend 5 minutes to keep your freedoms - step 2 how to complain about the Communications Data Bill.

This is step 2 - If you don't know what has been announced today read step 1. If you realise the scale of the attack on your freedoms today read on - how to complain to your MP from within your browser, in less than 5 minutes.

This text is released to the public domain (obviously) you are actively encouraged to steal it, edit it, improve it, forward it, rehost it and share it. If you spot any mistakes or possible improvements please leave a comment.

How to complain:

  1. Read Step 1 if you are not convinced.
  2. Click this link to go to WriteToThem
  3. Enter your postcode. Don't worry mysociety.org who run the site are lovely, safe and non-evil.
  4. It will find your Councilors, MP, MEP and so on. Click on the name of your MP.
  5. Add your name and address (be truthful, fake addresses will get the email junked)
  6. Write your letter of complaint about today's announcement.
  7. Check the spelling and grammar, click preview and send.
  8. Confirm your address in your email account.
  9. Go and sign the petition in the same way (thanks Labrat)
And you are done!

Next Steps

Now spread the word to your friends get them to do the same. If you are too busy or lazy to make your own case forward a link to this page to your friends. Or just copy and paste it into an email. Or paste it into your own website and claim it as your own. Improve upon it. Edit it, cut out the important bits. There is no vanity and acclaim wanted here. Steal this content and spread it.

Advice on writing a good letter:
  • First and foremost writing anything is better than nothing. A single line saying you oppose the Communications Data bill, is infinitely better than not sending anything. The more people who email the stronger they will gauge public opinion to be against this. However if you have more time do the following...
  • Make it clear in no uncertain terms that they will lose your vote in the coming election if they support this bill in any shape and form. (Obviously don't mention that you didn't vote for them last time if that's the case). This normally rattles them and gets you a reply about how nice they are really.
  • Request a response. Add something like "please respond clarifying your position on this." Lots of them pretend that if they are not asked directly then no response is needed.
  • Don't insult them, sound like a die hard fan that is going to turn to the other side over this. They don't care if some hippy/yuppie still dislikes them, they only care about their voter base, so pretend to be a fawning fan.
  • State that you read about the plans for the Communications Data Bill and that you consider it an assault on your civil liberties and thus unacceptable. Then explain that as your representative you wish your MP to take every action available to prevent this plan coming to fruition. His job is to represent you after all.
  • Don't assume they are for the bill and attack them personally, focus purely on the bill, your MP might agree with you!
  • Look at the example letters below, but don't use them verbatim, as that will merely activate the mass mailing filters and get your email trashed.
  • MPs are often too old to really understand the internet. Don't use jargon, and if you are good enough, try to explain why the internet needs to stay as it is.
Example Short Letter

Dear WHOEVER

I've recently become aware of the Communications Data Bill announced on Thursday. A database recording enough of our actions to trace every member of our society to an extent unprecedented in any democratic country. This is outrageous enough to warrant what is typically the hyperbole term 'Orwellian.' I fear that as most MPs are too old to have grown up with the internet they do not fully grasp the nature of their actions.

As my representative in Parliament I wish for you to strongly oppose this plan in every way available to you.

Please respond stating what your views of this plan are, and what actions you will take to oppose (or support) them. As, despite being a fan of yours, this is the final straw. Labours continued assaults on my civil liberties is enough for them to lose my vote in the coming election. In fact it is seriously making me consider voting Tory in the next election, despite the widespread damage it would cause, just to ensure essential civil liberties are preserved. Voting Tory was idea unthinkable until recently, but I will no longer support you if you support this plan.

Yours sincerely,
YOUR NAME
See I've used voting Tory as a threat. Make it clear that you would go to any length to avoid this happening.

Example Long Letter

Dear Mr MP,

Yesterday the Home Secretary announced plans for a huge central database to retain details of who contacted whom online, where and when.

This will constitute a database recording enough of our actions to trace every member of our society. To know who our friends are, what we buy online, what we believe in politically or religiously, what our sexual preferences are. The level of insight into our private lives this will give to the users of the database will be frighteningly wide.

The prospect of such an Orwellian tool being provided to the government raises a number of specific and important questions:

(1) Lord Carlile, the government's own independent scrutineer of counter-terror legislation, has warned that "the raw idea [of a central database] is dreadful. The devil will be in the detail." He has warned against the misuse of this database for "fishing expeditions" whereby the users of the database will mine the data, for anything of interest, no matter how minor. If this database is created, how will access to this database be controlled, and such patent misuse of this panoply of information be prevented?

(2) Ms Smith has said that "nor are we going to give local authorities the power to trawl through such a database in the interest of investigating lower level criminality under the spurious cover of counter terrorist legislation." However, a similar promise was made in relation to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act - quote "...such legislation is required to combat terrorism and its use will be restricted to such terrorist related cases..." . As we all know, RIPA is now routinely used by local authorities in respect of such weighty matters as school catchment areas, dog fouling and use of dustbins. What assurances can we possibly have that the same will not happen with this new tool?

(3) How does the government intend to meaningfully mine the mind-bogglingly large amount of data that this scheme would amass every single day? It simply will not happen. This will create a very, very big haystack with a very small number of interesting activities and we don't even know if they are the needles the security services want. We will not therefore be able to identify new terrorist threats from this pile of data. What, then, is the point?

(4) Quite aside from the threat that this database poses to the innocent populace, I would also question its necessity. In her speech, Jacqui Smith noted that since 2004 communications data has been used "as important evidence in 95 per cent of serious crime cases and in almost all Security Service operations". Such a statistic raises the question of why more powers are needed. With Ms Smith herself stating that the current measures are actually good enough to provide a good rate of conviction, why do we need another expensive set of potentially intrusive and probably functionally useless monitoring tools?

(5) Finally, what assurances can we have that this vast store of data will not be mislaid in the same manner as the now embarrassingly large catalogue of data handling failures that have occurred under this government? The government seems unable to cope with the databases it has now, so how can it possibly hope to ensure the security of the contents of a database containing the details of every single phone call, internet access and mobile text message sent by the 60 million citizens of this country?

As my representative in Parliament I therefore wish for you to strongly oppose this plan in every way available to you. As such I would request that you please respond stating what your views of this plan are, and what actions you will take to oppose them.

Despite being a Labour supporter and a fan of yours, this is the final straw. Labour's continued assaults on our civil liberties are enough to lose them my vote in the coming election. I am now seriously considering voting Conservative in the next election, despite the widespread damage a Tory government would otherwise cause, just to ensure essential civil liberties are preserved. Voting Tory was a repellent idea until recently, but I will no longer support you if you support this plan.

Yours sincerely,

The original version of this letter was written by 'Mr Chris' to his MP. As he is excellent. Be sure to edit any letter you base on it to ensure you do not set of duplication filters and stop all this mail being read.

9 comments:

jdc325 said...

Done. I liked your needle/haystack point and so included a couple of quotes from a NYT report on how the FBI had masses of unanalysed data prior to 9/11. His party has already quizzed the Govt on its plans, apparently (he's a Toryboy) so he is probably already against the plans but I suppose it doesn't hurt to encourage them...

PS: Nice one for posting on this Skeptobot

Anonymous said...

Cheers man, I always worry about non-sciencey stuff cos' of it popping up on badscienceblogs. But I think this is really important.

Lab Rat said...

you can also sign the petition:
http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/no-to-1984/

Lave said...

Cheers Labrat I've added that in.

teekblog said...

scary stuff. partly because of the needle/haystack problem, partly because of the inevitable data leaks and general incompetence of the govt when it comes to handling large amounts of sensitive data. but mainly it's the principle that in a free country, with freedom of expression and freedom from persecution, every citizen should have the right to live in privacy.

the problem we have is that if the govt invokes terrorism as the reason for the database, they can assume that anyone opposed to it has something to hide. with us or against us and so on.

will write to my MP, good work Skeptobot...!

Roger said...

done, and petition signed. I used a modified version of your short letter to include a reference to a recent report from the US on the uselessness of data mining for terrorists:
http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-10059987-38.html?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20

Atomboy said...

Thank you very much for this.

Strangely enough, this is exactly what I have been recommending on The Guardian's Comment is Free pages - a type of scattered and free-for-all protest, with co-operative methods.

I shall steal your stuff and add it and hope that it provokes more ideas and more action.

Again, many thanks.

your foot, my face said...

All done and dusted. Though I'm fairly sure mine will vote against it anyway.

In case you want to keep an eye on what our MPs are up to, rather than the other way round, their full attendance/voting records are on theyworkforyou.com

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