Agencies need clear spying laws

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MASS UK communications spying should continue if scrutiny arrangements are improved, a high level review has concluded.

Terrorism watchdog David Anderson QC called for a “clean slate” in the approach to intrusive powers used by authorities to combat terrorism and serious crime, saying the current framework is “fragmented” and “obscure”.

In a landmark 300-page report, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation said a “comprehensive and comprehensible” new law was needed to replace “the multitude of current powers”.

The review concluded that the UK must have an internet spying capacity, but suggested oversight should be the responsibilty of judges not ministers.

The report, commissioned when the Government rushed through laws to maintain intelligence capabilities last year, recommended that a new measure be introduced requiring the authorisation of a judge for all warrants for interception, which allow services to view the content of a suspect’s communication, limiting the role of the Home Secretary in this process to selected instances.

It adds that security and intelligence agencies should be allowed to continue practising “bulk collection” of intercepted material but “strict additional safeguards” should be introduced.

And in relation to encrypted communications, the report said “no go areas” for intelligence and law enforcement should be “minimised” but requests for encryption keys should be covered by a law-based system.

Mr Anderson said: “Each intrusive power must be shown to be necessary, clearly spelled out in law, limited in accordance with international human rights standards and subject to demanding and visible safeguards.

“The current law is fragmented, obscure, under constant challenge and variable in the protections that it affords the innocent. It is time for a clean slate.”

He said the report aims to help Parliament achieve a “world-class” framework for the regulation of “strong and vital powers”.

In Parliament the Homes Secretary said draft plans for new surveillance powers will be published in the autumn and scrutinised by a cross-party committee of MPs before proposed laws are put before Parliament early next year.

Theresa May said a draft Bill to reform security services’ powers to monitor online and other communications will be brought forward after the summer recess and will be scrutinised by a joint committee of Parliament.

Mrs May said there was a duty to ensure the security agencies have the powers they need to keep the country safe.

Any new laws will need to be in place by December 2016 when temporary surveillance powers passed by the coalition government expire, Mrs May said.

Mrs May told the Commons: “I’ve said many times before that it is not possible to debate the balance between privacy and security, including the rights and wrongs of intrusive powers and the oversight arrangements that govern them without also considering the threats that we face as a country.

“Those threats remain considerable and they are evolving.

“They include not just terrorism from overseas and home-grown in the UK, but also industrial, military and state espionage and the proliferation of once physical crimes online, such as child sexual exploitation.

“In the face of such threats we have a duty to ensure that the agencies whose job it is to keep us safe have the powers they need--.”