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Former spook bigwigs ask for rewrite of UK’s surveillance laws

‘New legislative framework’ needed, says RUSI report

Blighty's Independent Surveillance Review, commissioned by former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and conducted by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), has concluded that spy agencies aren't breaking the law - and recommends a new legislative framework and oversight regime.

Ultimately aiming to enable "the public at large to engage in a more informed way in the debate", the 154 page report (PDF) offers no new information but may serve as a primer for members of the public (and Home Office mandarins) who may struggle to understand the issues.

The review follows reports by Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), and by the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC.

The review supports the view "as described in both the [ISC] and Anderson reports, that the current surveillance powers are needed but that they require a new legislative framework and oversight regime."

Nick Clegg MP said: "I hope that this report, together with the recent report by David Anderson QC, can provide the basis for a stable new system that protects our security while doing much more to preserve the privacy of ordinary citizens online."

The report concluded that, despite the Snowden revelations, the panel had "seen no evidence that the British government knowingly acts illegally in intercepting private communications, or that the ability to collect data in bulk is used by the government to provide it with a perpetual window into the private lives of British citizens."

It continued:

On the other hand, we have seen evidence that the present legal framework authorising the interception of communications is unclear, has not kept pace with developments in communications technology, and does not serve either the government or members of the public satisfactorily.

A new, comprehensive and clearer legal framework is required.

The RUSI panel's members had a broad range of backgrounds, including three former heads of the UK's major intelligence agencies.

Among its other members were Martha Lane Fox, Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho, who previously criticised comments made by GCHQ's director as "reactionary and inflammatory", and Dame Wendy Hall, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton and founding director of the Web Science Trust, alongside Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Sir Nigel Shadbolt.

Nobody wants to backdoor you, honest!

Asked during Tuesday's launch about mandatory backdoors – a topic of constant concern to tech-literate onlookers – Sir David Omand, former head of GCHQ, dismissed the notion as a flat Earth story.

"Nobody has made any proposal to us to insert backdoors," he claimed. Rather what has been said is that there cannot be "no go" areas, explaining that there "cannot be areas in which the police are told they are not allowed to seek for information."

That, he stated, was very different from wanting to arrange the world so as to make everything available to the security services.

Prime Minister David Cameron has made several statements on the matter of encryption being used by ordinary people, including: "We cannot allow modern forms of communication to be exempt from the ability, in extremis, with a warrant signed by the home secretary, to be exempt from being listened to."

Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International said: "No matter how you look at it, root and branch reform is needed to bring our spy agencies under democratic control. Three reports in a matter of months have said as much [and] now it's up to the government to do something about it."

Security minister John Hayes responded to the report by stating: "We welcome RUSI's thorough report, which is an interesting and important contribution to these considerations."

"We will consider its recommendations," he continued, "alongside those produced by David Anderson and the Intelligence and Security Committee, in drawing up our legislative proposals on investigatory powers. A draft Bill will be published in the autumn." ®

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