UK surveillance laws need a dramatic overhaul, say MPs in damning report

13 Mar 2015

A Parliamentary committee has cleared UK spy agencies of illegal snooping but has called for an overhaul of Britain’s surveillance laws.

The report by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) led by Sir Malcolm Rifkind has acknowledged that agencies like GCHAQ keep huge databases on large numbers of people with no legal reason for doing so.

It also revealed that some intelligence analyst have been disciplined and dismissed for abusing these vast databases.

The data was gathered from various government departments as well as commercial organisations.

The committee recommends, in light of the revelations by Edward Snowden indicating collusion between GCHQ and the NSA in the US, a major overhaul of the UK’s surveillance laws to make them transparent and trustworthy.

Intrusive capabilities

“The internet has transformed the way we communicate and conduct our day-to-day lives,” said Hazel Blears MP on behalf of the committee.

“However this has led to a tension between the individual right to privacy and the collective right to security. This has been the focus of considerable debate over the past 18 months, and set the context for the Committee’s Inquiry into the range of intrusive capabilities used by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.

“All those who contributed to our Inquiry agreed that the security and intelligence Agencies have a crucial role protecting UK citizens from threats to their safety. The importance of this work is reflected in the fact that the Agencies have been given legal authority to use a range of intrusive powers which they use to generate leads, to discover threats, to identify those who are plotting in secret against the UK and to track those individuals.

“However, in a democratic society those powers cannot be unconstrained: limits and safeguards are essential. In the UK, investigative action which intrudes into an individual’s privacy can only be taken where it is for a lawful purpose and is determined to be necessary and proportionate.

“The question we have considered is whether the intrusion is justified and whether the safeguards are sufficient,” Blears said.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years