The 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.