Cambridge MP Candidates on Edward Snowden

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015. 3:23pm

At a hustings event in Cambridge organised by Amnesty International I asked those candidates present for their views on Edward Snowden.

My question

Should the UK offer Edward Snowden

  • Asylum
  • A medal
  • A fair trial?

Julian Huppert

I think he should be offered asylum.

I think it was an astonishing thing that he did. It is a great shame that he felt he had to go through that route rather than the proper due process within the US but to leave him sort of stranded in Russia is not the best outcome at all.

It is really amazing what we learned from Snowden. I spent about a year working on a very detailed committee looking at the Communications Data Bill, the snoopers’ charter as it became called and we were told all sorts of things which we then learnt from Snowden were not remotely accurate. As parliamentarians we were lied to by the security services and the police about what could happen.

When that came out it was really terrifying how little reaction there was in the UK Parliament. We had one debate, a debate I secured with cross party support, one debate only, a huge number of people resisting, disagreeing. People not wanting to talk about what we had come across.

In Germany there has been lots of discussion; in the USA there has been lots of discussion but here uniquely there has been very, very, little.

I don’t know why that is. In Germany they have the experience of the Stasi. America has got experience of the FBI going wrong, we have experience of James Bond, it’s all James Bond. In fact there have been huge problems and in fact the Government lost the first case ever in front of the IPT, the tribunal which deals with intelligence matters when they ruled that the regime that we had was not lawful. It has been corrected so that it is now technically lawful, but it was ruled to be not lawful.

I think we have to have a role for the security agencies; they do play a very important role in keeping us safe but they have to stick within the law. There has to be support for proper oversight and there has to be support for whistleblowers internally so we don’t force somebody like Snowden to go through the steps he has had to go through.

Daniel Zeichner

Well I’m not quite so keen on Snowden as you are Julian because I think he did put a huge number of people at risk but what he did of course reveal was the dreadful things going on and that is the dilemma. And we do have to protect the whistleblower but this is on a completely different scale which is why it has been such an extraordinary case and why it has been so difficult to resolve. I think it is a very hard one for people to deal with and I find myself absolutely torn because in principle I think it is for an individual to make that decision it is a very momentous decision for people to take and it must have been a momentous decision for him to take because not only was he putting others at risk he was putting himself at huge risk. His life has been, of course, we could say transformed, because of it. It will never be the same again, so in some ways you could say he is very brave. But you can also say he was very foolish so it’s very very hard.

I think the biggest problem of all is what he showed, what he revealed, and have to think very carefully about how we deal with that in the future but we also must not understate the risks that we face in the modern world. So it’s a question of getting the balance right. I’m not sure that Richard’s question is easily answerable quite frankly and I think that’s why he finds himself in a state of limbo.

Chamali Fernando

I actually think he has been incredibly brave and we should stand up for people who have done that. The reality is that we are fortunate in this country to have whistleblowing legislation to protect the whistleblower and in the case of Snowden we have uncovered atrocities going on that we would never otherwise have known about. So it has set the wheels of transparency in motion, it gives people the courage to come forward, and talk about things that they know about that are going on that we would not otherwise know about. So I think he’s done very well.

In answer to the question I am torn between asylum, I don’t think we need to go as far as a medal, but he has been incredibly brave.

Rupert Reed

Why not asylum and a medal that’s what I say.

Julian the only question I have for you is: “Why were you surprised the spooks lied to you?”. That’s what they do. That’s what they do. They have far too much power and they are dangerous.

I must say I’m disturbed by Daniel’s answer to the question. I’m afraid that when push comes to shove Labour’s instincts, like the Conservatives’ always seem to be in the final analysis to plump for the deep state and to expose us all to ever growing levels of surveillance. I think we need to be extremely disturbed by what Snowden and others have revealed.

We are in a situation now in a country like this and also the US where in many ways the level of surveillance and the extent to which you are in a police state is more than it was in Eastern Europe. The amount of stuff that they know about us that the amount they snoop on is stuff that the Stasi could in many respects never have dreamed of and yet we tolerate this.

One reason I feel very strongly about this is that I have quite a lot of friends and colleagues in the Green Party and outside the Green Party in other radical movements like the animal rights movement and so on who have been spied upon and dealt with in quite appalling ways in some cases.

My friend and colleague Baroness Jenny Jones is coming here in ten days time to support my campaign and speak for us in this election. Jenny is someone who has been labelled according to secret police documents which have been revealed as a domestic extremist because of various demonstrations which she has taken part in.

Now of course the great response to this is if you’ve got nothing to hide then what are you afraid of? Now let me tell you that there are people who do have something to hide, journalists often have something to hide, whistleblowers often have something to hide, political activists often have something to hide. This idea that if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to be afraid of is completely wrong and of course this applies to Snowden himself. He had something to hide, right, he had something therefore to be afraid of, thankfully managed to keep his courage and reveal it all to us and the world is a better place for it.

Patrick O’Flynn

Patrick O’Flynn did not attend the hustings event but he was asked about his views on Edward Snowden at a public meeting during the campaign.

Julian Huppert must account for the way he has voted in the past. If he thinks he is easily fooled then perhaps being a member of Parliament is not the best occupation for him.

Hang on a minute, more money for spoons did you say? Spooks? Ah I see what you mean.

More money for spoons well this country is in a very dangerous situation not only with external threats from you know regimes and terror.

Now listen it’s not a crisis of fear it is understanding that this country is part of a dangerous world with big new terrorist threats right and our security services and intelligence services do a brilliant job in protecting us from fourteen plots.

I think we need many fewer Edward Snowdens and I think some of those people who expose people without thinking through the consequences may be guilty of triggering a chain of events which could lead to good people and brave people losing their lives as a result of terrorism.

I think. Listen. Nick Clegg came into power thinking you know you could abolish X, Y and Z and play free and easy and you know the coalition itsself under LibDem pressure relaxed those control orders and they have had to kind of un-relax them a bit because they are worried about the number of people in this country mercifully a tiny fraction of the population who would do their own country down and do it damage who have to be watched every day and I believe they do have to be watched.

Keith Garrett

I can’t find any information on Mr Garrett’s views on Edward Snowden.

My views

My views – Why I Asked the Question and How I’d reply

I asked the question because I think it is wrong that Edward Snowden, who has acted morally, in the public interest, is now facing an uncertain future. As Julian Huppert put it – he is “stranded in Russia” and I think if he was to return to the USA he is unlikely to receive a fair trial, both due to the state of their laws eg. Whistleblower protection not extending to those employed working for the intelligence agencies and the Espionage Act not having provisions for disclosures in the public interest.

I would like to see the UK do what it can to help Edward Snowden. I think we should publicly congratulate him for what he has done, and in particular the responsible and careful way in which he disclosed information, and offer him asylum. I would also like to see the UK negotiate with the USA and encourage them to allow him to return, freely, there.

Perhaps the UK could seek to mediate and hold some sort of hearing which would be acceptable to the USA in lieu of prosecution in the USA for charges under their Espionage Act.

My views – Whistleblowing Protection

A number of the candidates spoke about the importance of protecting whistleblowers. Conservative Chamali Fernando in particular appeared to think the UK’s current laws are strong.

Many voters in Cambridge will not be protected by the UK’s whistleblowing laws as the law only applies to employees so students and graduate researchers will not be covered. I’ve written about this and suggested Cambridge’s MP seeks to extend the scope of whistleblowing protection this is something I continue to think is important and would like to see Cambridge’s next MP pursue.

Arrangements for members of the intelligence agencies to make disclosures to the intelligence and security committee could also be improved.

My views – Informed MPs

When the Communications Data Bill was being considered I found it hard to believe the UK’s intelligence agencies’ capabilities were lacking to the degree they, and ministers, were claiming in order to support the proposed law. It took Edward Snowden’s revelations to expose what was really happening but I think we also have a responsibility to elect sceptical representatives who are willing and able to scrutinise what the state is doing on our behalf and to put in place clear limitations and safeguards for the future.

Huppert now accepts he was lied to but this does raise the question of if he and other MPs were effectively carrying out their role – a key part of the role of an MP is ensuring you have the best possible information before you on which to take decisions. We need to elect people who don’t take what they’re told at face value.

My views – State Surveillance

I think we still have a long way to go to put in place a reasonable set of laws and mechanisms for oversight of how the state collects and uses not just communications information, but information on our locations, movements, and financial information, including what we buy.

This isn’t just something to tackle at a national level; we need to keep asking questions about the policies and practices of local police forces and other public bodies too.

The following is from a report by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee in March 2015:

See Also:

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