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Did speaker's statement show he doesn't know what day IT is?

Wool(sack)y thinking on PCs

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Comment Reports from the House of Commons last week suggested that the police took their time returning Damien Green's PCs to him.

To compound the insult, it is clear Speaker of the House Michael Martin, and most MPs, have at best not much of clue when it comes to technical issues.

In his statement on Wednesday, Michael Martin said: "With regard to the computer equipment being removed, when I discovered that, I instructed the Serjeant at Arms to ensure that the police had that equipment back in the office on Monday to allow the hon Member concerned to function properly as a Member of Parliament".

All well and straightforward – except for the question of whether he meant last Monday or this. The ambiguity is compounded by the fact that, about two sentences prior to this claim, he talks about a government motion being brought before the House next Monday.

The House of Commons Press Office is refusing to clarify. Ditto the Met, although consensus amongst parliamentary staff we have spoken to seems to be that it meant last Monday - December 1.

If so, then this leaves an unhappy gap in the Speaker’s statement, since our most recent understanding from one insider close to this affair is that by mid-day last Thursday, some equipment had still not been returned, a fact that the Speaker could not - should not - have been unaware of on Wednesday. A member of Damian Green's office staff also confirmed on Friday that the equipment had been returned the previous day.

Of course, for a non-technical audience, the simple question of whether PC equipment had been returned might be enough. However, Register readers – and anyone else with a modicum of understanding of the IT issues involved – may be less impressed by the complacency of the Statement.

There are three reasons why the police raid was considered controversial: the lack of a warrant, the impounding of an MP’s "tools of trade", making it impossible for him to do his job, and the possible risk that "privileged information" including confidential correspondence from constituents may have inadvertently been seized by police.

Whether such correspondence does count as privileged within the meaning of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) is subject to debate.

We spoke to John Cooper, a Barrister at 25 Bedford Row and an expert in this area. He said: "Correspondence with an MP is not automatically privileged in the way that medical or legal documents would be. It is possible that some of the material on Mr Green’s PC would be subject to privilege – but not necessarily so."

The Speaker’s statement covered the first two of these issues, but appears to have left the third completely unaddressed. It is hard to believe that the police would have gone to so much trouble to seize computer equipment – and then return it without retaining a copy.

However, on such technical issues as whether assurances were also sought from the police that they would not image Damian Green’s hard drive before returning it, the Speaker on Wednesday and the Commons Press Office since have been strangely silent.

Which brings us back to our original speculation. Is it possible that having failed to take full legal advice on the rights of the police action, the Speaker has compounded the matter by failing to talk to anyone who understands IT about the issues involved? It would be staggering if this were so – but on the evidence in the public domain to date, it is beginning to look as though this is indeed the case. ®

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