Author Topic: David Cameron welcomes all-clear on spy agencies from Sir Anthony May  (Read 849 times)

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Offline Elaine Davis

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David Cameron welcomes all-clear on spy agencies from Sir Anthony May

Surveillance watchdog's report says authorities do not engage in random mass intrusion into affairs of law-abiding UK citizens

Ewen MacAskill, Nicholas Watt and Luke Harding   

The Guardian, Tuesday 8 April 2014 16.36 EDT   

David Cameron has welcomed a report by the surveillance watchdog, Sir Anthony May, that gives a clean bill of health to Britain's spy agencies after revelations in secret documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The prime minister said the report by the interception of communications commissioner found that "agencies undertake their role conscientiously and effectively, and that public authorities do not engage in indiscriminate mass intrusion".

Cameron said the legislation governing surveillance, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), was working, in spite of advances in technology that critics say has left it outmoded. The report and the prime minister's response suggest that any chances of reform are receding, at least in the short term.

Snowden's revelations about Britain's GCHQ and its US counterpart, the NSA, have led to a worldwide debate about the balance between national security and privacy.

The lack of movement by the British government contrasts with the US response, where the Obama administration is already making changes and new legislation has been proposed.

Although the report runs to 78 pages, May does not address many of the key revelations in the Snowden documents such as the existence of the British-run Tempora programme, which sucks up masses of internet data, or the links between spy agencies and the private internet and telephone companies.

May said he was constrained by restrictions imposed by parliament. "They mean that I am not able to confirm or reject publicly parts of the detail said to derive from Snowden allegations."

Activist groups expressed scepticism about May's findings. Rachel Robinson, policy director of Liberty, which is challenging the legality of GCHQ's actions, described as "baffling" May's failure to find some of the surveillance programmes described in the Snowden documents, such as Tempora and Prism, as anything less than intrusive.

"I don't think we want to say the interception of communications commissioner is acting in bad faith. But his office is necessarily limited," she said.

Julian Huppert, a Liberal Democrat member of the home affairs select committee who has campaigned for significant reforms over the collection and retention of data, said: "This is a clear report and raises a number of concerns about the way Ripa is currently used. As Sir Anthony himself says, it feels like the number of requests for information are too many. And he is concerned about the significant institutional overuse of the powers."

Huppert added: "He also highlights concerns specifically about unreliability and inadequacy of the statistical requirements – that it is very hard to know what is actually going on and that it is not possible to know how many people are affected by communications data requests.

"He also highlights that Ripa is a difficult statute to understand. If he finds it complex, what hope do the rest of us have?"

May, a former judge appointed by the prime minister, said in his annual report that the public authorities do not misuse their power under Ripa. They do not "engage in random mass intrusion into the private affairs of law-abiding UK citizens. It would be comprehensively unlawful if they did".

But May, who is responsible for overseeing warrants requested by the police as well as the intelligence services, expressed concern about what he described as the "very large number" – 514,608 – of requests for information about phone calls and other communications. The police and other law enforcement agencies accounted for almost 90%. "It has the feel of being too many," he said.

May acknowledged he had seen some of the the proposed reforms in the US but said: "It is clear that the relevant circumstances in the US are substantially different from those in the United Kingdom." It was not appropriate to extrapolate recommendations from the US report into UK circumstances.

He reiterated the line initially taken by the government in June in response to a series of stories in the Guardian: basically, that any member of the public who does not associate with a potential terrorist or serious criminal or be seen as a potential national security threat can be assured the intelligence agencies and police had no significant interest in examining their emails, phone or postal communications.

Cameron, welcoming the report, said: "In light of concerns about the activities of the intelligence agencies, the quality of oversight, and a number of public concerns and myths that have developed in the light of media allegations linked to Edward Snowden, I believe his report provides an authoritative, expert and reassuring assessment of the lawfulness, necessity and proportionality of the intelligence agencies' work."

The chairman of the home affairs select committee, Keith Vaz, focused on the number of requests: "The number of authorised requests for people's communications data appears excessively high. It is important that law enforcement agencies access data necessary to their investigations but we must be sure that no gratuitous requests are being made."

Vaz expressed concern about whether May and another judge who acts as a watchdog had sufficient resources to scrutinise the work of the intelligence agencies.

Emma Carr, deputy director of Big Brother Watch, said: "The government needs to urgently address the fact that the commissioner has grounds to believe some powers are institutionally overused and that the records kept by public authorities are woefully inadequate. This does not require new legislation and should not wait until after the election."

In a separate development, the European Court of Justice has declared the data retention directive illegal, torpedoing UK government schemes for the so-called "snooper's charter" of wide-ranging collection of phone and internet data.
GOD FORBID THE LIGHTS GO OUT and a zillion brains have to be retrained to function in manual reality.

Does anyone else get the idea that the tweets on the WL account are starting to sound a little like someone is bathing in a bird bath, eating bird food & possibly smoking bird * in his own sphere??