‘Independent’ review of controversial surveillance legislation concludes spies can continue bulk data collection
The ‘independent review’ of the UK Government’s Investigatory Powers Act, dubbed the Snoopers Charter 2.0, has given its official blessing despite widespread concerns.
The review was carried out by the government’s reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC, with two of his colleagues. They examined how the powers to allow Britain’s intelligence agencies to harvest huge amounts of data from email and other communications, would actually work in practice.
It was back in May when the then Home Secretary Theresa May promised a “independent review” in an attempt to fend off fierce criticism of the Act.
Earlier this year the Joint Select Committee of MPs said that the “Home Office has further work to do before Parliament could be confident that the scheme has been adequately thought through.”
The House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee had also concluded that the draft bill was too vague in its provisions and would require detailed codes of practice in order to ensure it doesn’t prove a disastrous burden on the nation’s IT industry.
Despite that, the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill was eventually passed by a clear majority of MPs in the Houses of Parliament in early June.
But a lot has changed since then.
The UK subsequently voted to exit the European Union, and Theresa May is now Prime Minister following the resignation of David Cameron.
The review by David Anderson, however has concluded that the law, which allows MI5, MI6 and GCHQ to gather large volumes of data from members of the public had a “clear operational purpose” and was a “vital utility” for the spy agencies and that “alternative methods fall short of providing the same results.”
It cited one case in which a kidnap had taken place in Afghanistan, and the report found that: “Without the use of bulk interception, it was highly likely that one or more of the hostages would have been killed before a rescue could be attempted.”
The report also found that the bulk acquisition of communications data is “crucial in a variety of fields, including counter-terrorism, counter-espionage and counter-proliferation” and its use cannot be matched by data acquired through targeted means.
An operational case for bulk equipment interference has been made in principle and there are likely to be cases where “no effective alternative is available”, the report found.
It said that bulk personal datasets are of great utility to the security and intelligence agencies and in vital areas of work, there is “no practicable alternative”.
The government and the lady who drove the bill through Parliament of course welcomed the conclusions of the review.
“I am grateful to David Anderson for this report, which follows a detailed and thorough review in which the government has provided unfettered and unprecedented access to the most sensitive information about our security and intelligence agencies’ capabilities,” said Prime Minister Theresa May.
“Mr Anderson’s report demonstrates how the bulk powers contained in the Investigatory Powers Bill are of crucial importance to our security and intelligence agencies,” she added. “These powers often provide the only means by which our agencies are able to protect the British public from the most serious threats that we face. It is vital that we retain them, while ensuring their use is subject to robust safeguards and world-leading oversight which are enshrined in the Investigatory Powers Bill.”
But others were less than impressed, and campaign group Liberty condemned the reviews “rubberstamping” of the laws.
It said the review fell far short of the impartial, probing and well-evidenced investigation into the necessity of ‘bulk’ powers so urgently required.
“Liberty called for an impartial, independent and expert inquiry into these intrusive powers – yet sadly this rushed review failed on all three counts,” said Bella Sankey, Policy Director for Liberty.
“The review panel consisted of former Agency staff effectively asked to mark their own homework and a Reviewer who has previously advocated in favour of bulk powers,” said Sankey. “The report provides no further information to justify the agencies’ vague and hypothetical claims and instead invites the public to ‘trust us’. Post Chilcot, this won’t wash – hard evidence is required instead.”
“This was an opportunity to properly consider the range of targeted methods that could be used as effective alternatives to indiscriminate and potentially unlawful powers,” she said. “That chance has been wasted.”
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