Support grows for surveillance transparency

commons dayLast November we launched our ‘Time for Transparency’ campaign, revealing new polling that showed 66% of people want more information about how surveillance powers are used, with 70% wanting companies like BT and EE to publish their own reports about the requests they receive, as companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft now regularly release.

Today we are publishing a paper detailing further proposals to improve transparency, following wide ranging discussions with companies, regulators and political figures, as well as discussions with people in the United States. The paper outlines how the Interception of Communications Commissioner should publish a breakdown of how individual agencies use powers to access communications information – currently just one total figure is published – as well as calling for clarification about whether British companies are handing over data ‘in bulk’ on thousands or millions of customers.

The paper also calls for more transparency about how undercover officers and covert surveillance powers are used, after every police force in the country refused to publish statistics under Freedom of Information Act requests made by Big Brother Watch, citing security concerns.

Our paper has received support from Former Home Secretary David Blunkett MP and former GCHQ Director Sir David Omand.

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett MP said“This paper highlights some very positive steps that will better inform the public and the debate which is rightly taking place about how we learn lessons from the immediate past and move forward to the future. We should learn from the US that it is possible to give the public more information about how surveillance powers are used without jeopardising security. I know that the Intelligence and Security Committee will not only be taking on board a whole range of submissions following their call for evidence, but also drawing down on the wider debate publicly and in Parliament. Both are important.”

Sir David Omand, former Director of GCHQ, said“I welcome this initiative by Big Brother Watch.  Not all the ideas in this paper may prove practicable, but it is important to keep seeking safe ways of informing the public about the true purpose, value and extent of interception of communications about which misunderstandings abound.  US practice may not always be the best guide due to the scale of their effort and since their legal structure is different.  Nevertheless, I hope ways will be found to make more information available for the UK so as to enhance public trust in the intelligence work of the police and security authorities”. 

Read the paper here.