The Interception of Communications Commissioner (ICC) 2012 Annual Report has raised serious questions about whether the commissioner’s office is actually fit for purpose. The report has failed to make any mention of Tempora and PRISM whilst at the same time seriously lacks the impression that the ICC has been enforcing serious oversight of the way security agencies acquire and use communications data.
The report has highlighted that the number of requests that security agencies made about texts, emails and other communications data increased by 15% Ito more than 570,000. The report also makes the admission that information that had been released had led to six members of the public being wrongly detained or accused of committing a crime. The ICC and Parliament need to seriously ask themselves how one commissioner with a handful of staff can meaningfully scrutinise 570,000 surveillance requests.
Throughout 2012 the security agencies were desperate to push through new legislation that would allow them to access communications data from the internet, whilst at the same time Tempora and PRISM were giving them all the data that they have wanted.
Did the ICC know that this was already happening? Gut instinct would say that he didn’t. From the report it would appear that the ICC is shown exactly what the agencies want him to see and nothing more. The commissioner continues to refuse to even say how many applications he inspected, which only reaffirms how unconvincing his assurances are. How can the public have confidence that laws are being adhered to and safeguards are being upheld if the very person with the legal capacity to inspect agencies’ behaviour isn’t doing just that?
If the public are to have confidence that these powers are being used properly our entire surveillance regime, devised before Facebook even existed, is in need of a total overhaul to bring it in line with modern technology and to ensure people’s privacy is not intruded upon either without good reason or by mistake.
Sir Paul Kennedy, the ICC responsible for this review officially left the post in December 2012. Here is hoping that Sir Anthony May, the new ICC, will have a far tougher approach to the interception of our communications.