Author Topic: One power too many for Britain’s security state  (Read 1672 times)

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Offline mayya

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One power too many for Britain’s security state
« on: November 11, 2015, 11:45:44 AM »
November 4, 2015 6:48 pm

One power too many for Britain’s security state
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Police case for accessing citizens’ internet browsing history is flawed


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David Cameron says the Investigatory Powers Bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation that the Conservatives will implement in this parliament. The prime minister’s claim is one with which few would disagree. Ever since the whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the scale of mass surveillance by the US and UK intelligence agencies, the British government has been under pressure to clarify how and when its police and spies should be allowed to access all manner of communications. The legislative plan published yesterday goes a long way towards allaying public concern about data privacy — but not far enough.
As she steers this bill through parliament, the task facing Theresa May, home secretary, is not easy. The UK’s existing surveillance laws clearly need to be overhauled. The 15-year-old Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act — or Ripa — was forged in a pre-digital age and many of its provisions are out of date. Ms May’s previous attempt at a bill three years ago was too draconian. Dubbed the “snooper’s charter”, it was killed off by the Liberal Democrats while in coalition with the Tories.

 Now, Ms May is proceeding more cautiously — and wisely. Her bill is only a draft and she is seeking parliamentary and public debate before finalising it in the spring. She has listened to her critics and is clearly trying to reconcile the need for citizens to keep their data private with the role of the security services in maintaining public safety.
Given the scale of the terror threat, the intelligence agencies need to retain strong surveillance powers. But the bill rightly introduces judicial oversight over how they operate. At present, only ministers sign interception warrants allowing the agencies to see the content of phone calls, emails or social media messages. The draft bill proposes a “double lock” under which warrants must be approved not only by a minister but also a senior judge.
In urgent situations, say where lives are in imminent danger, the bill allows the minister to sign a warrant without immediate approval from a judge. But judicial oversight will be the norm, a safeguard that will boost public trust. It is especially important if US companies are to feel more comfortable about handing over data to the British authorities, something they have been reluctant to do.
Where the bill raises concern is in its plan to allow the security services to track UK citizens’ use of the web. The government proposes that internet and phone companies should be required to keep “internet connection records” — tracing every website that has been visited by an individual but not every page — for a maximum of 12 months. The police argue that accessing these records is increasingly important for their work, such as tracing people who share child abuse images.

In an age when most people live much of their lives online, this proposal is highly questionable. If the browsing history of an individual is accessible to the state, it will offer a detailed insight into that person’s life. Yet the bill suggests that police may access such data without any ministerial or judicial warrant. There has been much controversy over the conduct of the police in Britain in recent years. This must raise concerns about how they might use extensive new surveillance powers.

Ms May’s draft bill is close to striking the right balance over state surveillance. It preserves the powers the intelligence agencies need to tackle terrorists and criminals while improving external oversight over what they do. But the home secretary should rethink any plan to retain the web browsing records of British citizens. On this, she needs to make a more convincing case.
 



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