IPB An open letter signed by hundreds of senior lawyers and several high-profile QCs (Queen's Counsels) has criticized the UK's Conservative government for pushing a surveillance bill that is "not fit for purpose."
More than 200 lawyers, including several who have been closely involved in cases surrounding evidence from the security services, signed the letter, which argues that there need to be "significant revisions" to the draft Investigatory Powers Bill (IPB) – otherwise known as the Snooper's Charter – if it is to meet "international standards" for surveillance.
The letter states: "A law that gives public authorities generalized access to electronic communications contents compromises the essence of the fundamental right to privacy and may be illegal."
That statement is especially pertinent given the EU's recent "Privacy Shield" agreement with the United States that was developed following very similar concerns over mass surveillance.
The UK Bill does not include several critical distinctions that were drawn up in that agreement, including the concept of "targeted" collection and data only being collected where "strictly necessary." As such, the IP Bill as it currently stands is almost certain to be challenged in the European Court of Justice (assuming the UK doesn't vote to leave Europe later this year).
The letter also criticizes the draft law for failing to include any verification of "reasonable suspicion" in instances of interception of data. It notes: "The investigatory powers bill does not mention 'reasonable suspicion' – or even suspects – and there is no need to demonstrate criminal involvement or a threat to national security."
In summary, it says the Bill – which receives its Second Reading on Tuesday – "fails to meet these [surveillance] standards – the law is unfit for purpose." It adds: "If the law is not fit for purpose, unnecessary and expensive litigation will follow, and further reform will be required."
Signatories to the letter include chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee, Kirsty Brimelow QC, special advocate Tom de la Mare QC, former appeal court judge Sir Stephen Sedley, and renowned human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield QC. A significant number of signatories come from the UK's most prominent law schools.
It should be noted, however, that despite Edward Snowden's claim that "practically the entire legal community of the UK" has signed the letter, there are around 1,700 QCs in the UK currently and the letter represents less than 10 per cent of them.
While the Conservative government is pushing the IP Bill as having reached an adequate balance between privacy and security, the main opposition Labour Party had said it will abstain from the second reading and has threatened to vote against it later if significant changes are not made (a decision the other main party, the Liberal Democrats, called "gutless"). The Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party are opposed to the bill. ®