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“Turbo-charged snoopers’ charter”

“Turbo-charged snoopers’ charter”

Britain leads the world in the use of CCTV. As a result, surveillance has become an inescapable part of life. Britain has a larger DNA base and more police powers and email snooping than any comparable liberal democracy.

This was the very solid base for coalition home secretary Teresa May’s snooper’s charter bill three years ago which would have allowed GCHQ to conduct real-time surveillance of a person’s communications and their web usage. The intelligence services and police would have had powers to insist that internet and phone companies hand over our data without our knowledge. She stressed the need to move quickly.

Downing Street initially brushed aside libertarian objections to maintain that laws will be passed in the coming parliamentary sessions to extend state surveillance on the internet. Draft clauses would be published as part of a bill for discussion. Then plans were put on hold after being condemned by MPs of all parties. Nick Clegg, then Deputy Prime Minister, announced that the contentious measures would only be published in draft form and would be subject to widespread consultation, concessions that could delay the proposals for at least a year.

Mrs May’s chagrin could well be imagined. She does not brook opposition lightly, and will have taken great pleasure at Clegg’s subsequent political defenestration.

As announced in the Queen’s speech, David Cameron is to press ahead to extend the powers of the security services in response to the debate that followed surveillance disclosures by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The government is to introduce an investigatory powers bill far more wide-ranging than expected. The legislation will include not only the expected snooper’s charter, enabling the tracking of everyone’s web and social media use, but also moves to strengthen the security services’ warranted powers for the bulk interception of the content of communications. The extension of the bill to “modernise the law” on tracking communications data, was agreed within government only this week.

The Home Office says the investigatory powers bill will “better equip law enforcement and intelligence agencies to meet their key operational requirements, and address the gap in these agencies’ ability to build intelligence and evidence where subjects of interest, suspects and vulnerable people have communicated online.”

In his response to the Queen’s speech, Nick Clegg said it was “dispiriting for us, if pretty unsurprising, to see how quickly the new Conservative Government…are turning their back on [the] liberal stance.

“As we did in the coalition Government, we will fight any attempt to weaken the fundamental rights of our citizens, whether those enshrined in the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act, or those threatened by what sounds, from what I have heard today, to be a turbo-charged snoopers’ charter.”

The prime minister was warned that his plans for the investigatory powers bill will face a major challenge in the House of Lords. Lord Wallace of Tankerness, the Liberal Democrat leader in the upper house, suggested that his party would adopt a robust approach to the Salisbury convention, which says that the upper house should not seek to challenge manifesto commitments by a winning political party.

And David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, claimed that the government move contrasted with the approach in the US. Davis told MPs: “Our primary ally, the United States with the NSA which entirely mirrors GCHQ, is as we speak moving away from bulk collection of date and treating it as wholly unconstitutional.”

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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