THE BLOG

Reviving the Snooper's Charter Would Be Disproportionate and Misguided

25/11/2014 16:32 GMT | Updated 25/01/2015 10:59 GMT

If you haven't already noticed, this week has been designated National Counter-Terrorism Awareness Week; a full-scale campaign to raise awareness of potential terror threats, or seen from another angle as a concerted effort to bring back the Communications Data Bill, aka the "snooper's charter".

The campaign began in earnest last week with comments from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan Howe, and the Assistant Commissioner, Mark Rowley, explaining how the police require the internet companies to do more to help them with their investigations. However, the real push has come from the home secretary, Theresa May.

Firstly she announced her plans to introduce powers to match Internet Protocol addresses to individual users. This measure has been on the cards since the Communications Data Bill was blocked by the Liberal Democrats in March 2013 and it is becoming increasingly clear that May doesn't even believe in her own proposals. In a press conference she stated that irrespective of how effective this new power may be she will "still need to return to the Communications Data Bill".

The second step has been Tuesday's publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee's report into the brutal murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby. The conclusion that a failing of an unnamed technology company should determine future legislation, whilst the catalogue of errors by the intelligence agencies is all but excused, raises concerns.

The report revealed multiple failures by the intelligence agencies to use the powers available to them to monitor communications. Indeed, it remains astonishing that MI5 categorised a known member of a terrorist organisation as low risk. Adebolajo did not act under the radar, he was vocal in public and on social media, making him an open and viable target for continued surveillance.

Earlier this year, the Home Affairs Select Committee deemed the oversight of the spy agencies as being ineffective, echoing similar comments made by the deputy prime minister and shadow home secretary. Tuesday's report has confirmed that oversight is the bare minimum of what is required to make the agencies run more effectively. The publication of the report is now an opportunity for a full scale re-evaluation of the decision making and record keeping processes of the intelligence agencies, as well as the training and resources allocated within the counter terrorism community. The prime minister announced £130million to be handed to the agencies, which we are told will be granted over a two year period to tackle "self-starting" terrorists. It is arguably worth putting the money towards solving some of the broader existing concerns.

Events should be used as an opportunity to learn lessons not an opportunity for greater knee-jerk legislation. Look at the approach Norway took in reaction to the appalling acts committed by Anders Breivik, who took the lives of 77 people in 2011. Norwegian politicians didn't take to the airwaves calling for greater restrictions on the freedom and communications of its citizens. Instead, it took a measured, thoughtful approach, determining the horrific act as a one off and not the start of a wave of hate filled crime to befall the country for evermore. Indeed the Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, called for "more democracy, more openness and greater political participation" in response to the violence.

We must approach today's report with the same calm and thoughtfulness. We should recognise that surveillance of an entire population is both an unacceptable intrusion on our freedoms and creates nothing more than a chilling effect on free expression for anyone communicating in, or with, the UK. Not only that, it also risks diverting resources away from the security services at a time when they are more in need of targeted surveillance than ever before.

It is therefore imperative that before setting her sights on reviving the snooper's charter, the home secretary addresses the issues flagged in the report. It was and remains not only illiberal but unworkable and would be a completely disproportionate and misguided response to the very problems that face our intelligence and law enforcement agencies.