JUSTICE responds to ISC Privacy and Security Report

JUSTICE welcomes the recognition by the Intelligence and Security Committee (“ISC”) that the current legislative framework for surveillance by security agencies in the UK lacks transparency and is ready for reform.

Surveillance is a necessary activity in the fight against serious crime. It is a vital part of our national security. It has saved countless lives and helped convict hundreds of thousands of criminals.  Unnecessary and excessive surveillance, however, destroys our privacy and blights our freedoms.

In 2011, JUSTICE published Freedom from Suspicion: Surveillance reform for a digital age, which recommends replacing the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (“RIPA”) with a new legislative framework fit for an age of smartphones and social media, which respects individuals’ rights to privacy, creates greater transparency in the powers exercised by any public agencies in the UK, and provides for greater accountability.

RIPA has not only failed to check a great deal of plainly excessive surveillance by public bodies over the last decade but, in many cases, inadvertently encouraged it. RIPA is neither forward-looking nor human rights compliant. Piecemeal amendments are no longer enough for what is already a piecemeal Act.

The recommendations of the ISC go no-where near far enough to restore common sense to the confused, opaque and unworkable framework for surveillance that we currently have in RIPA and its new sibling, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (“DRIPA”).

We particularly regret the ISC conclusion that “bulk interception” of communications and communications data by security services is lawful and justified. JUSTICE provided a full response to our concern that data retention, like interception, must be properly targeted, in our submissions on the Draft Communications Data Bill.  Since the Draft Bill – widely called the Snoopers’ Charter – was shelved; the Court of Justice of the European Union has also called for an end to untargeted, blanket data retention in Europe.  The legality of our response in DRIPA is yet to be tested.

The ISC unfortunately suggests we face a stark but unfounded choice between our security agencies having access to the widest pool of information about our communications and how we communicate with each other and an unmanaged risk to our communities from terrorism and other threats.

Andrea Coomber, Director of JUSTICE said:

“Drawing an artificial dichotomy between policing and security and privacy in this context is deeply unhelpful. 

If what is proposed is a statutory power to collate and store a vast and untargeted pool of our private communications, that  would see a step-change in the relationship  between the State and the citizen in the UK.   This is a step which must be considered seriously and which can’t be worth taking “just in case”.”

The Government response to the ISC Report acknowledges the on-going review of RIPA by David Anderson QC, Independent Reviewer of Counter-Terrorism Legislation.  JUSTICE welcomes the opportunity to engage in a full debate on a new legislative framework for surveillance in the new Parliament.

The time to rip up RIPA is long overdue.

Read JUSTICE’s submission to the ISC Privacy and Security Inquiry.

Read JUSTICE’s Legal Officer, Ruchi Parekh, blogs on the ISC Report for the Just Security blog.