“I am not interested in any ministerial position, and certainly not that one about to be vacated by Francis Maude.”
David Davis MP, who has spoken publicly against Government surveillance and accused Parliament of complacency when it comes to the actions of intelligence agencies, told me that he was happy with his position on the backbenches as he can “say what I like about what I like and get attention paid to it”.
Sitting in the MP’s office overlooking the Thames, I was interested in his views on the state of Government when it comes to dealing with the cyber threat, and how prepared we are as a nation. Despite categorically stating that he had no interest in the primary position, he did single out several individuals for their capabilities and knowledge, in particular former Security Minister James Brokenshire named.
Davis, who ran for the position of Conservative Party leader in 2005 and ultimately lost to David Cameron, also recently called for a judicial review of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA), along with Tom Watson MP and the Open Rights Group. So with this level of interest in privacy, I asked him if he felt that the current Government lacked any idea when it came to the cyber sector?
He said that it would be rude to say that they haven’t got a clue as one or two MPs do show some knowledge, but he said that the Government is, in its widest sense, not particularly equipped to deal with it and many do not have technological skill.
“Talk to senior policemen, their grasp of tech is pretty thin and ministers think that they are up with the years if they have an iPad,” he said. “There is little deep understanding except in the specialists parts, but there they don’t really have an answer. If you want a symptom of that, look at Cameron’s comments on encryption, which were just out of this world – or more accurately, not of this world.”
The debate on encryption, which flared up in January when the Prime Minister said he wanted to outlaw it in order to prevent safe spaces for terrorists, has created amusement for the tech community. Davis said that encryption is needed for banks and for buying online as two examples, or even for individuals involved in the Arab Spring.
He said: “Are we all supposed to expose every aspect of our private lives because the agencies have screwed up? The answer is obviously no. Similarly, and I am not just talking about the UK, I am talking about the west, Snowden was not an accident – Snowden was an inevitability.”
He admitted that by breaking the US constitution, disrespecting the spirit of their law and making it known to 800,000 people (who are cleared to high level) that you are publicising the activity, then there was no way that Snowden was an accident.
“Somebody at some point was going to say something and Snowden was not the first, but the only difference is he produced the documents, other just said things and their reputations were destroyed,” he said.
We moved on to the discussion about the state of understanding technical issues within Government. Davis claimed that the whole structure
of western Government is not very bright on a technical and a strategic level, and if you tell an entire nation that they are being spied on, then the entire nation will respond and that will create a place where the terrorists can hide – and that is the agency’s fault.
Also, he pointed to the sophisticated example of Stuxnet, of something that can conceal itself and mimic behaviour patterns, and faces national infrastructure, which is “in effect a Lego block network”.
Davis said: “Whether it is that or weakening encryption to put backdoors in, the second order is bigger than the first order effects, and they don’t think it through which is astonishing.”
David Davis MP was talking to Dan Raywood
In our next article, David Davis talks about GCHQ, and what the UK is doing wrong with its cyber talent.