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Committee widens inquiry into surveillance laws

5946829399_e633991652_oThe Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has announced plans to broaden its investigation into whether the laws on digital surveillance and communications are adequate in the internet age.

This is a welcome step forward given the widespread concern that Britain’s surveillance laws are not fit for purpose, having been written before Facebook existed and when few people had internet access. However, such a debate cannot be allowed to take place behind closed doors and without pressing questions being asked about the legal justification for what we know to be already happening at GCHQ and elsewhere.

Indeed, this is the basis of our legal argument filed as part of the Privacy not Prism campaign – that Britain’s legal framework is not adequate and the surveillance being undertaken is neither necessary nor proportionate.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the committee chairman, has said that “an informed and responsible debate is needed” in order to address the balance between our “individual right to privacy and our collective right to security.” He said: “In recent months concern has been expressed at the suggested extent of the capabilities available to the intelligence agencies and the impact upon people’s privacy as the agencies seek to find the needles in the haystacks that might be crucial to safeguarding national security.”

The announcement follows a statement made in July regarding the investigation into PRISM, following the revelations made by Edward Snowden, where concerns were raised that the existing framework may not be adequate. The committee said:

“Although we have concluded that GCHQ has not circumvented or attempted to circumvent UK law, it is proper to consider further whether the current statutory framework governing access to private communications remains adequate.”

The ISC’s reputation is increasingly at stake given recent failures to get to the bottom of controversies and this work must be to the highest standards of independence, objectivity and transparency if it is to command Parliamentary or public confidence.

We will of course be making a full submission on our concerns and outlining ideas like those we suggested to the Prime Minister last week. It remains to be seen if the ISC is serious about having a debate and ensuring we have a legal framework that is fit for purpose.

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Communications Data Bill, Information Commissioner, Legal Action, Surveillance, Technology, Terrorism Legislation

2 Responses to Committee widens inquiry into surveillance laws

  1. fred

    I call whitewash. Rifkind sees part of the Committee’s job to be PR for the spooks. See his descriptionn of the second duty of the ISC:

    Henry Porter v Malcolm Rifkind: surveillance and the free society

    Malcolm Rifkind and Henry Porter
    The Observer, Saturday 24 August 2013 20.49 BST

    [...]

    What you clearly don’t understand is that the ISC has two duties, not one. The first is to criticise and condemn the intelligence agencies if they exceed their powers or act foolishly. The second, just as important, is to defend them and declare their innocence when unfairly attacked by journalists or politicians. They cannot defend themselves. We are determined to do so, but only when the facts justify it.

    [...]

    • David

      “What you clearly don’t understand is that the ISC has two duties, not one. The first is to criticise and condemn the intelligence agencies if they exceed their powers or act foolishly. The second, just as important, is to defend them and declare their innocence when unfairly attacked by journalists or politicians. They cannot defend themselves. We are determined to do so, but only when the facts justify it.”

      That’s the problem right there, who is watching the watchers? who is there to watch if they overstep their boundaries in order to criticise and condemn their actions?

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