Britain has gone “further than any other Western democracy” in its expansion of surveillance powers and its ability to collect bulk data without justifiable reason, a British MP has said.
Joanna Cherry, a Scottish National Party (SNP) MP, made the comments in reference to the Investigatory Powers (IP) Bill, which has been introduced to extend surveillance and data-gathering laws. It will allow UK intelligence agencies to collect, store and access information about internet users.
The government says such a move is necessary to combat terrorism. Critics of the bill have branded it a “snoopers’ charter” on the grounds it infringes privacy and undermines basic human rights.
Cherry says: “At least the IP Bill is honest about the fact that it permits the collection of bulk data. However, we shouldn’t be too congratulatory of the bill as we have now gone further than any other Western democracy.”
Although surveillance powers are necessary to protect from terrorist threats, security measures need to be justified, she said.
The SNP unsuccessfully opposed the IP Bill in the House of Commons.
“Certain aspects of the bill will not survive under the European Convention on Human Rights, if we manage to stay in the EU,” Cherry argued.
“The SNP felt that the bill should be in accordance with European Union law, that we shouldn’t be going further than other Western democracies and that we were interested in having suspicion-based surveillance rather than suspicionless surveillance.”
She added: “America has rolled back from bulk collection at the very time that Britain is trying to roll out greater surveillance powers on a statutory basis.”
‘Suspicion-based surveillance’ is when intelligence services have an interest in a particular person or organization that they wish to target using surveillance. In contrast, ‘suspicionless surveillance’ refers to the collection of bulk data without any justifiable reason why the data is needed.
An independent barrister charged with reviewing counter-terrorism laws, meanwhile, has said bulk data interception is critically important to Britain’s national security.
David Anderson QC, who serves as the government’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, published a report on the controversial practice of mass data collection on Friday.
“Bulk interception is of ‘vital utility’ to the security and intelligence agencies and that alternative methods fall short of providing the same results,” says Anderson.
He also claimed data collection is important for a range of intelligence operations “including counter-terrorism, counter-espionage and counter-proliferation.”
“There are likely to be cases where no effective alternative is available,” he stressed.
Prime Minister Theresa May, who championed such powers while serving as David Cameron’s home secretary, said she is “grateful to David Anderson for this report, which follows a detailed and thorough review in which the government has provided unfettered and unprecedented access to the most sensitive information about our security and intelligence agencies’ capabilities.”
She said the investigation had shown that the bulk provisions in the Investigatory Powers Bill “are of crucial importance to our security and intelligence agencies.”
“These powers often provide the only means by which our agencies are able to protect the British public from the most serious threats that we face,” she said.
“It is vital that we retain them, while ensuring their use is subject to robust safeguards and world-leading oversight which are enshrined in the Investigatory Powers Bill.”