Draft bill on UK surveillance system
Published: November 8, 2015 4:52 pm
08 November 2015, Nirapad News: The supposed strength of the new legislation on draft investigatory power in UK is its “double lock” authorisation process, with both ministerial and judicial approval required for the grant of any warrant. However, the decision to retain the home secretary’s authorisation process for domestic interception — the first lock of the double lock — is utterly irrational.
Domestic interception should not be a political decision. In any event, this system does not offer any accountability, as ministers never answer questions on security and certainly never admit to security errors.
Even with surveillance powers other than domestic interception, the proposed “double lock” falls far short of what is needed, and fails to live up to government promises. Limiting judicial commissioners to considering warrants on judicial review principles means they can overrule a home secretary only if he or she is deemed to have acted utterly unreasonably. The government has hamstrung the process, in essence turning it into a judicial rubber stamp.
The government has also retained the power to demand data from overseas service providers. However, companies will be permitted to refuse to hand over customers’ data where doing so would place them in breach of laws in the country where they are based.
The consequences have not been thought through. Under this regime, tech start-ups will prefer Iceland or Switzerland or Germany, where users’ data will be protected from our government’s demands by local regulations.
And speaking of overseas communications, the government’s definition of this is still a fudge, concocted by Home Office mandarins to scoop up the largest quantity of data. With everyone’s emails and communications already passing through servers located overseas, there is no way to differentiate between national and overseas traffic. All data will be collected, without distinction.
As it stands, this draft bill is a 290-page missed opportunity. The chance to embrace the new consensus among the likes of Mr Anderson, the technology industry, our Five Eyes allies and a large number of other experts that judicial authorisation is vital for all surveillance, has not been grasped. The proposed authorisation and oversight are nowhere near as intelligent as the American, Canadian, German or Dutch systems. The claim by Theresa May, home secretary, that ours will be one of the strongest systems in the world is laughable. It will arguably still be the worst.