Drage, RIPA and implications for the rule of law
The Oliver Drage case is still causing a lot of discussion; and a lot of learned and technical people are exercising their minds on how to defeat the relevant clauses within the RIP Act that requires us to surrender our computer passwords for no other reason than the police or other lawful entities tell us to. Almost all of these methodologies require us to be devious to one degree or another, and/or to tell an outright lie (and hope to get away with it simply because it cannot be disproven).
I have a problem with this. If I suspect a policeman or other authorised body to be on a fishing trip with no genuine moral reason to require my passwords, I will decline to provide them. That’s out of principle. It is ‘principle’ that will also require that I neither lie nor behave deviously. Why should I compromise my principles? It is this law that is immoral, not me.
This leads us inevitably and inexorably to the overriding question: is or should the rule of law be sacrosanct in a democracy? In reality, there is no easy definition for ‘the rule of law’; but I’m going to suggest that (in the UK) it embodies two elements: that nobody is beyond the law; and that the law is whatever Parliament declares the law to be.
So, it comes down to this: if I believe in the rule of law I would have to surrender my passwords to any authorised body simply because Parliament has declared this to be the law; if I decline to surrender my passwords, then I do not accept the rule of law. I am, in the old sense of the word, declaring myself to be outside of the law: I am an outlaw.
This is the conundrum. If I tell lies and act deviously about my password, then I am a bad person but probably free. But if I don’t tell lies and don’t act deviously, then I am a good person but locked up. Can any thinking person have any respect for either such a law or indeed those who first framed and subsequently maintain such a law?
The law is an ass. Our law-makers are asses. And Parliament is the House of Asses.