UK
11/06/2015 07:50 BST | Updated 11/06/2015 09:59 BST

'Snoopers' Charter' Campaigners Claim Victory After Surveillance Report Says Existing Powers Are Enough

Civil liberties campaigners have claimed a victory against a proposed expansion of authorities' power to spy on your phone calls and online activity after an independent review of existing surveillance powers said they were sufficient.

The long-awaited report, commissioned by the government after it rushed new powers through parliament last year, said the law was "fragmented" and "obscure" and a new legislation that was both "comprehensive" and "comprehensible" was needed.

The report, by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC, recommended that the security services keep their existing power to collect peoples' data in bulk but that judges, instead of ministers, should be the ones to authorise individual warrants.

david anderson independent

David Anderson said existing law was 'fragmented' and 'obscure'

He added that the government should "early and intensive dialogue" with the security services and internet service providers about the Communications Data Bill - nicknamed the Snoopers' Charter by its opponents - so it could come to "an updated and coordinated position, informed by legal and technical advice".

Within minutes of its publication, the 373-page report prompted another round of the fight between campaigners fighting the expansion of surveillance and the government, which has said it will introduce the "Snoopers' Charter" after being prevented from doing so by the Liberal Democrats during the coalition.

Andrea Coomber, director of legal reform campaigners, Justice said: “The Home Secretary wanted an independent view on the surveillance debate and [Anderson] has spoken: no new powers now, new safeguards for powers there already and independent judicial oversight.

"We need a new law fit for the digital age, one that protects us all from disproportionately intrusive surveillance and provides appropriate judicial oversight. David Anderson agrees. It should look nothing like the last Government’s ‘Snoopers’ Charter’.”

Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, told The Huffington Post UK: "Given that Anderson has been speaking to ministers, police and security services for the last year, it is telling that he says that the operational case for the snoopers’ charter has not yet been made. It’s vital that this report and the classified Sheinwald report are taken into account before new laws are proposed."

He added: “The report confirms that our surveillance laws are unclear, vague and improperly supervised. It’s truly shocking that this democratic failure has only come to light because of the actions of a whistleblower.

"The government response to the Snowden revelations has been to amend and pass more laws to legitimise the activities of the security services. Instead of further legislation, the government needs to act on Anderson’s call for the fundamental reform of our surveillance laws."

THE DIGITAL DEFICIT:

Web Biscuits' Are Just One Of The Reasons Politicians Aren't Addressing Digital Issues

The Metadata 'Blackmail Machine' At The Heart Of Britain's Digital Policy Deficit

Jimmy Wales: We Must Always Be Sceptical Of Any Call for Digital Regulation

David Davis Doesn't Think Any Of The Leadership Favourites Will Succeed Cameron

Stephen Hull: Introducing Beyond The Ballot

Martha Lane Fox Thinks No One In The House Of Lords Understands The Internet

Why We Need Dot Everyone - A Public Institution for the Digital Age

Liberty said Anderson's report was a "blow" to the government's plans to expand surveillance.

Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said: "Whilst we don't agree with all his conclusions, Mr Anderson's intervention could be the beginning of re-building public trust in surveillance conducted with respect for privacy, democracy and the law. It is further vindication of Edward Snowden's courage."

In the introduction to his report, 'A Question Of Trust', Anderson wrote: “Modern communications networks can be used by the unscrupulous for purposes ranging from cyber-attack, terrorism and espionage to fraud, kidnap and child sexual exploitation. A successful response to these threats depends on entrusting public bodies with the powers they need to identify and follow suspects in a borderless online world.

“But trust requires verification. Each intrusive power must be shown to be necessary, clearly spelled out in law, limited in accordance with human rights standards and subject to demanding and visible safeguards."

He added: “The current law is fragmented, obscure, under constant challenge and variable in the protections that it affords the innocent. It is time for a clean slate."

David Cameron said the report "offered a firm basis for consulting on our new legislation" in a written statement to parliament.

He said the government wanted to pass new legislation before December 2016.

Rebel Tory backbencher David Davis, a former shadow home secretary, said the timing of the publication had been changed to prevent "informed questioning" of May by parliament.

“Frankly this behaviour is designed to limit Parliament’s informed questioning of the Home Secretary," he said.

"The report, originally intended for publication at 9:30 this morning has been delayed by No. 10, first to 10:30 and then to 11 o’clock.

"This was only changed when a media organisation, who already had the document, broke the embargo.

"This is a deliberate attempt to prevent Parliament from scrutinising the report before the Home Secretary presents it to the Commons."

"This Government has a poor record when it comes to anti-terrorism and Parliament, as when they passed a Bill through Parliament in one day on bogus emergency grounds. How information is released by governments to Parliament needs serious reform if MPs are to properly hold the Government to account.”

During the debate in the Commons, Davis urged Home Secretary Theresa May to adopt the recommendation that judicial authorisation be required for all interception warrants.

"This country relies on ministerial auth more than any other country in the world with the possible exception of Zimbabwe," he said.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, agreed with judicial authorisation for interception warrants but May said she was not prepared to make a commitment today as the government wanted to "reflect more fully" on the report. The government will publish a Draft Communications Data bill in the Autumn.

Matt Warren, new MP and former tech journalist, said one company's claim that "our priority is our brand, not UK intelligence" was "shameful".

The tech company that made this comment was not named in the report.