Building a surveillance law fit for purpose – new JUSTICE publication

In 2011, JUSTICE published Freedom from Suspicion: Surveillance Reform for a Digital Age, a forward looking report on the failure of the surveillance framework in the UK to keep pace with changing technology, to the detriment of both individual privacy and the credibility of the work of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies.  We recommended that the law be rewritten to provide a new legal framework, containing adequate safeguards and setting new standards for a digital age.  Legal distinctions and safeguards drawn up for surveillance in an era before smartphones and social media were “badly out of date”. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act – “poorly drafted and hopelessly opaque” – was ripe for repeal.

Developments in the past four years have confirmed that reform is not only timely, but crucial.

Although much heat and light – rightly – has been generated about the scope of powers and capacities for digital surveillance, there is broad consensus that the current model for authorisation and oversight in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 is broken.

Today we publish an update to our 2011 report – Freedom from Suspicion: Building a Surveillance Framework for a Digital Age – on the core safeguards we consider crucial to debate on the forthcoming Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, focusing on access to justice in surveillance.

By its nature secret, the capacity for individuals to complain when surveillance goes wrong is inherently limited. The case for such power to be strictly defined is clear. Increased transparency, prior judicial authorisation and more effective oversight are essential to ensure decisions on surveillance are right before our privacy is endangered.

New safeguards do not make the case for new overbroad powers. However, modern legislation which creates a transparent, workable and lawful framework for surveillance is long past due.

Andrea Coomber, Director of JUSTICE said:

“Surveillance is a necessary activity in the fight against serious crime.  It is a vital part of our national security.  However, unnecessary and excessive surveillance destroys our privacy, blights our freedoms and taints our trust in the bodies which work to protect us.

Public debate has become polarised, press driven and both over-simplified and bogged down in technicality.  Setting a false dichotomy between security and individual privacy may make a good sound bite, but it won’t make good law.

We hope that Parliament will grasp this unique opportunity to build a new law which is not only fit for a digital age, but truly world-leading.”

Read Freedom from Suspicion: Building a Surveillance Framework for a Digital Age

Download Freedom from Suspicion: Surveillance Reform for a Digital Age (2011) 

Read JUSTICE’s response to the publication of “A Question of Trust” (The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, 2015).

Read the full press release on Freedom from Suspicion: Building a Surveillance Framework for a Digital Age


On 2 November JUSTICE jointly hosted a high-level, round-table discussion with King’s College London on the issues raised in this paper. An unattributed note of the proceedings will be available shortly.