Pensioners debate one of the crucial technology questions of the decade

Written as editor of the New Statesman’s NS Tech and first published here.

Wading through the speeches made during the second reading of the Investigatory Powers Bill in the House of Lords and one thing is clear – those guys are old.

The average age of more than 40 speakers who made their cases (largely for) the controversial bill is 65, which would be the mandatory state retirement age, if we weren’t all being made to work until we’re 100.

Just 11 of the group speaking about surveillance in a digital landscape are under the age where we’d have been able to legitimately pack them off into their slippers.

The oldest person to contribute to the debate yesterday evening was Baron King of Bridgwater (83), who rather gracefully admitted: “I stand here as an avowed ignoramus on many of these amazing technologies, such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook.”

He was first elected as an MP for the Conservative Party in 1970 and was brought into the Cabinet in 1983 by Margaret Thatcher.

The oldest woman to add her voice to the proceedings was 80-year-old Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale, who used to work at MI6.

She praised the highly criticised “bulk data” powers, presumably because in her day that meant a sack of intercepted envelopes to steam open.

Many, including some of her fellow peers, believe that collecting too much data can actually impede the spotting of criminals.

When giving evidence to the Joint Committee scrutinising the bill back in December, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) flagged no less than nine pretty profound challenges they saw with the new rules.


There were just two speakers in their 40s, one of whom is the only person who still has direct experience of the new rules as they might apply to ISPs; that’s Dido Harding.

Baroness Harding of Winscombe, as she’s known in the House, is the very same Baroness Harding of Winscombe who’s been heavily criticised following significant customer data breaches over at TalkTalk, where she is the CEO.

The Culture Media & Sport Committee, reporting on TalkTalk ahead of the Information Commissioner’s verdict on the incident, did not recommended she be sacked, but suggested “a portion of CEO compensation should be linked to effective cyber security”.

Instead Harding has just received a £2.8m pay packet.

And now she’s adding her expertise to what could become a personal data goldmine for hackers.

The other youngster is 46-years-young Baron Oates; that’s Jonny Oates, former chief of staff to Nick Clegg and director of policy and communications for the Liberal Democrats.

Which went well.

Of course, there is plenty of expertise in the House of Lords, including retired police officials, as well as people who served on the bill’s scrutiny committee, the Intelligence Select Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Let’s just hope that assumptions aren’t being made on their part simply because they largely do not live digital lives.

We are, of course, still just seeing the fallout from the last time over-65s made the decision on something important…

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