The Labour leadership can go a long way to ensuring there are sufficient safeguards on our information and privacy
When Parliament returns this week, one of the key bills which will be put before a joint committee will be the Investigatory Powers Bill, more commonly known as the Snooper’s Charter. While the contents of the bill are unknown, it is likely to be similar to the one the last government proposed which was shelved due to Lib Dem resistance.
A High Court case brought forward by Tom Watson MP and David Davis MP ruled that last year’s emergency DRIPA legislation was unlawful as it did not contain enough privacy safeguards. Consequently, the court gave the government nine months to come up with new legislation.
However, if the Investigatory Powers Bill is similar to the Snooper’s Charter proposed last year, it is unlikely that it will contain such privacy safeguards. The legislation is likely to propose that powers of the security services for the bulk collection of communications data are extended, and may even propose the banning of encrypted apps such as iMessage and WhatsApp.
It is therefore up to Labour to ensure that such adequate safeguards for privacy make their way into the legislation. One of the best ways of doing this is to bring in judicial warrants for interceptions, similar to FISA (United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance) courts in the US.
Not only have judicial warrants been supported by NGOs, and LCHR, for a long time, but two independent reports on the capabilities of the security services by RUSI and David Anderson QC recommended they be used too.
The value of the judicial warrants lie in the fact that they provide much needed safeguards to a system which has thus far been ignorant to the privacy concerns of citizens. David Anderson, in his report, recommended a new body (the Independent Surveillance and Intelligence Commission (ISIC), to be set up to judicially authorise all interception warrants.
The idea of these warrants is not new. FISA courts have been used in the USA to oversee requests for surveillance warrants against foreign spies in the country since 1978. The UK is the only country in the Five Eyes (USA, Australia, New Zealand and Canada being the other four members) intelligence alliance which does not use judicial warrants for interceptions.
For Labour, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has said that she supports different levels of warrants, for example judicial authorisation could be used for suspected criminals but powers could otherwise remain with the home secretary on issues of national security and foreign affairs. She has also called for the government to start from scratch with the new bill, instead of trying to revive the Snooper’s Charter.
Cooper is right. Any new legislation must not be based on assumptions which the government made without the knowledge of the reports into security capabilities which have been released this year. All have called for clearer, more transparent language as to what the security services can and cannot do, as well as calling for new legislation to guide their behaviour. Key recommendations such as the judicial warrants are not seen anywhere in the old proposal.
This is therefore a great opportunity for the government to make laws on how our communications data can be used in a way that is both sensitive to the needs of the security services in protecting us, but also safeguards our privacy and prevents the misuse of our data.
By supporting judicial warrants, the new Labour leadership can go a long way in ensuring that our security services not only have the capabilities that they need to keep us safe, but that there are sufficient safeguards on our information and privacy.
Ailar Hashemzadeh is the campaigns officer for the Labour Campaign for Human Rights