UK's mass-surveillance draft law grants spies incredible powers for no real reason – review

Despite umms and aahs, GCHQ is home free to hack


What does this mean?

When the review was commissioned earlier this year by Theresa May, then the Home Secretary, it was in response to Parliamentary pressure by the opposition party to shift the bill through the House of Commons. The bill is now before the House of Lords and will enter its report stage when its members return from their summer holidays on 5 September.

The Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael MP, applauded the “in-depth and incredibly useful report in what was a very challenging time-frame, he and his team deserve all our thanks for their relentless hard work.”

"As Anderson himself states 'the Review was not asked to reach conclusions as to the proportionality or desirability of the bulk powers' it now falls to us in both the Commons and the Lords to assess whether the powers are proportionate and desirable in a democratic state. The government must table amendments to give effect to Anderson's recommendation to create a Technical Advisory Panel to advise on the impact of changing technologies and to ensure that the intrusion into privacy is always kept to the absolute minimum. A failure to do this would undermine the now Prime Minister's assertion that this Bill has privacy ‘hard-wired’ into it.” added Carmichael.

Carmichael added: “Despite it being one of the most intrusive powers, the provision to capture and store all of our web histories for 12 months has not been scrutinised in this report. Liberal Democrats continue to be utterly opposed to this excessive and authoritarian measure that not only erodes our privacy but will likely to prove to be a waste of money and fall foul of our courts."

Bella Sankey of human rights pressure group Liberty said: "The review panel consisted of former Agency staff effectively asked to mark their own homework and a Reviewer who has previously advocated in favour of bulk powers. The report provides no further information to justify the agencies’ vague and hypothetical claims and instead invites to the public to ‘trust us’. Post Chilcot, this won’t wash – hard evidence is required instead."

A question of trust

David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, led the review. His appointment was positively received following last year’s publication of his thorough 374-page report into British State surveillance, titled A Question of Trust.

Anderson’s independence is far more obvious than that of the former reviewer of terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile, who held the position for more than nine years and came under heavy criticism last year when it was revealed that he co-owned a consultancy, SC Strategy, with the former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, whose work he effectively oversaw.

A report in the Guardian revealed that the pair had received £800,000 from their consultancy over the last three years, though Lord Carlile, a Liberal Democrat, has rejected claims that this was the reason for his surprisingly strong support for the State’s surveillance activities, claiming: “Our business relationship developed for reasons totally unconnected with Sir John having been chief of MI6.”

As part of the bulk powers review, Anderson was also able to appoint three specialists with top-level security clearance. The review’s leading counsel was Cathryn McGahey QC. McGahey is a national security barrister with extensive experience of working both with and against government departments.

Clickbait conspiracy theories attended Dr Robert Nowill’s [PDF] appointment as the review’s technical advisor. Though currently chair of Cyber Security Challenge UK, Nowill was formerly the director of technology and engineering at GCHQ.

Anderson’s investigatory advisor was Gordon Meldrum QPM, the former director of intelligence at the National Crime Agency whom Anderson stated “has the skills and investigatory experience to advise whether the advantages claimed for bulk could have been obtained by other, less intrusive means.”

Additional input into the review from was welcomed by Anderson, who stated he was “grateful for design ideas [regarding the structure of the review] from the Don’t Spy on Us Coalition, Liberty and Lord Strasburger.”

The report concludes that it “has declared the powers under review to have a clear operational purpose. But like an old-fashioned snapshot, it will fade in time. The world is changing with great speed, and new questions will arise about the exercise, utility and intrusiveness of these strong capabilities. If adopted, my recommendation will enable those questions to be answered by a strong oversight body on a properly informed basis.” ®


Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020