The Boris Johnson administration’s efforts to pass legislation which will allow the state to recruit children to spy on their parents and even break the law while doing so has horrified some of the party’s top parliamentarians.
The Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS) Bill will, if passed into law, allow 22 state agencies, including the likes of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and local councils, as well as the intelligence services and police, to recruit children as “covert human intelligence sources” — spies, essentially. Children aged 16 and 17 could even be used to spy on their own parents, and afforded certain protections to break the law while doing so.
“Once you start taking action like this to put spies in people’s homes whatever the purpose, this does have complications. It is very important for Government to recognise that this is not something that should be easily done in a democratic state,” warned Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative party leader and Cabinet minister, in comments reported by The Telegraph.
“Everyone I have spoken to has been horrified by it when it has been explained to them,” added David Davis, the former Secretary of State for Brexit who famously resigned his seat in Parliament and ran for it again in a by-election to highlight the erosion of civil liberties by the previous Labour government.
“It will allow 16 and 17-year-olds to spy on their parents. It also authorises them to commit crimes as well, so it needs to be extremely tightly controlled and those controls need to be greater than what the Government is proposing,” Davis warned.
The CHIS bill was amended to heavily restrict the use of child spies when it went to the House of Lords for revision, as part of the normal parliamentary process, but it is understood that the government wishes to strip these amendments out when it returns to the House of Commons.
If the government can retain a solid majority for its bill in the Commons, the Lords can only delay its passage, not having the power to outright block legislation the elected lower chamber is determined to push through in most cases.
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“Juvenile covert human intelligence sources are used very rarely and only where careful consideration has been given to the welfare of the child,” insisted Security Minister James Brokenshire, in defence of the CHIS bill.
“It may be necessary to help remove the child and other young and vulnerable people from the cycle of crime that they are in. This includes helping to prevent and prosecute gang violence, drug dealing and the ‘county lines’ phenomenon which all have a devastating impact on young people and communities,” he continued.
“Their use is governed by a strict legal framework and is overseen by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. We are strengthening the safeguards which apply in the very rare cases that a child is tasked to participate in criminality to ensure that their best interests are always a primary consideration in the decision-making process.”
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