#DontSpyOnUs campaign response to Counter-terrorism watchdog report

The David Anderson QC report primarily looked at the legality of the current arrangements for surveillance. The campaign believes it is essential for a further report to look at the cost-effectiveness of intrusive mass population surveillance against targeted surveillance.

English PEN is a member of the The Don’t Spy On Us campaign, a coalition of the most influential organisations who defend privacy, free expression and digital rights in the UK and in Europe.  The campaign’s initial response to the review by David Anderson QC is as follows

1. The report calls for a fundamental overhaul of the law: “It is time for a clean slate”

This is a long-standing call by the coalition and welcome. The law has failed to protect fundamental liberties as found by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal when it deemed US-UK surveillance illegal for seven years.

2. Anderson found a lack of transparency in the law and operation of the intelligence agencies: “The current law is fragmented, obscure, under constant challenge and variable in the protections that it affords the innocent.”

For too long, the parliamentary oversight of the intelligence agencies and the law has been unfit for purpose. While politicians have maintained the law protects the innocent, this independent review disagrees.

The coalition notes we only found out about the failings of the current law through an American whistleblower, Edward Snowden.

3. Call for judicial commissioners: “(e) a new requirement of judicial authorisation (by Judicial Commissioners) of all warrants for interception”

This affirms our call that Ministers should not be signing off warrants without judicial oversight.

This proposal is a step in the right direction, but does not go far enough. All surveillance should be signed off by a judge, in a proper legal process, to ensure that surveillance is only used when it is necessary and proportionate.

4. No strong case to date has been made for the Snooper’s Charter

Anderson does not call for an extension of powers unless the government makes a detailed operational case (which it has so far refused to do) and a “rigorous assessment has been conducted of the lawfulness, likely effectiveness, intrusiveness and cost”. This is a powerful indictment of the lack of evidence provided by the government for the new sweeping powers they want to use to intrude into the private lives of ordinary Britons.

5. Taking UK citizen’s data from abroad: Anderson calls for “the development of a new international framework for data-sharing among like-minded democratic nations”.

Anderson has made criticisms of the current procedure and says in the long-term there needs to be multilateral reform. The government commissioned Sir Nigel Sheinwald to report on multilateral reform, but his report – which we believe found solutions to these problems – has been classified as top secret.

Comment from Don’t Spy on Us member organisations:

Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group:

The report confirms that our surveillance laws are unclear, vague and improperly supervised. It’s truly shocking that this democratic failure has only come to light because of the actions of a whistleblower.

The government response to the Snowden revelations has been to amend and pass more laws to legitimise the activities of the security services. Instead of further legislation, the government needs to act on Anderson’s call for the fundamental reform of our surveillance laws. Given that Anderson has speaking to ministers, police and security services for the last year, it is telling that he says that the operational case for the snoopers’ charter has not yet been made. It’s vital that this and the classified Sheinwald report are taken into account before new laws are proposed.

Jo Glanville, Director, English PEN

David Anderson’s report marks a significant step forward, underlining the necessity of an overhaul of the existing legal framework, which we’ve been calling for since Edward Snowden’s revelations two years ago. While we would have liked to see the recommendations go even further in relation to GCHQ’s bulk collection of data, we welcome the recommendations for judicial authorisation and the call for a rigorous assessment before any further powers are given to the intelligence services in a revived Snooper’s Charter. We are also delighted to see the recommendation for protection of journalists’ and lawyers’ confidential communications. Reform is essential not only for the protection of our privacy, but for safeguarding freedom of expression. None of us can communicate freely unless we can be sure that our data is secure.

Eric King, the Deputy Director of Privacy International said:

This is the final nail in the coffin for RIPA.

The ISC called our surveillance laws “unnecessarily complicated.” David Anderson calls them “undemocratic.” The message cannot be clearer: wholesale reform of Britain’s surveillance laws is needed. Not some tweaks, or a change here and there, but full root and branch reform. Our system of governance and oversight hasn’t worked. It took Edward Snowden, a whistleblower from another country, to shine a light on what was being done in our name, and get us to where we are today.

We now need to start again, debate and discuss every aspect of the vast and incredibly intrusive powers we provide the police and intelligence agencies. David Anderson’s strong recommendations for improvement are the first step towards reform, and now the burden is on the Government, parliament and civil society to ensure that reforms go further and ensure that once and for all, our police and intelligence agencies are brought under the rule of law.

Thomas Hughes, Executive Director, Article 19 said: 

The Anderson Report offers hope that freedom of expression could finally be addressed seriously in the UK. As we saw with the curtailment of NSA surveillance powers by the US Congress earlier this month, there is a growing belief among experts and politicians that spying powers and limits on free speech have gone too far.

While it is regrettable that David Anderson did not do more to address the elephant in the room that is mass surveillance by GCHQ, ARTICLE 19 hopes David Cameron recognises that the tide is turning on the legal limits of surveillance. The UK government must now act by adopting the recommendations on judicial authorisation of interceptions and protection of journalists sources.

Renate Samson Chief Executive of Big Brother Watch has said:

David Anderson’s has produced a well researched and balanced report.  He has provided the country with a clear analysis of the delicate balance between surveillance and privacy in the UK today. He has listened at length to all the key players in this debate and we welcome his acknowledgment of the many areas we have repeatedly noted as being of concern.

Whilst the report features a number of excellent recommendations, notably the introduction of judicial authorisation of warrants; including those currently signed off by a Secretary of State, the creation of a new Commissioner system, a complete rewrite of RIPA and that a compelling case for the intrusive powers called for in the “Snoopers Charter” has yet to be made.

On the issue of bulk data collection, further discussion about safeguards based on necessity and proportionality is critical.  Bulk data collection whilst useful, has the power, as Mr Anderson noted to be “revealing of our personal habits and characteristics”. Further discussion and debate is therefore essential.

We hope today’s report will be the start of a long overdue and much needed parliamentary and public debate.  The creation of a joint committee to begin analysis on existing legislation and Mr Anderson’s report should now be convened to start that process.

The full report is available to read on the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation website.

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