The Snoopers' Charter has almost passed - but this isn't the end of the road
“To preserve our free societies, we have to defend not just against distant enemies, but against dangerous policies at home. If we allow scarce resources to be squandered on surveillance programmes that violate the very rights they purport to defend, we haven’t protected our liberty at all: we have paid to lose it.” Edward Snowden
Today, MPs have a final chance to voice their opposition to the Investigatory Powers Bill – or Snoopers’ Charter.
Over the last year, Liberty has fought tooth and nail to persuade the Government to make the most of what was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a targeted, robust and proportionate legal framework, granting powers to keep us safe and protect our privacy.
As it stands, the Bill protects neither our security nor our privacy. And – as it’s set to pass in a matter of days – it looks like the fight for a truly targeted, effective surveillance regime goes on.
When it comes into law, the Snoopers’ Charter will provide the intelligence services with mass surveillance powers, allowing them to listen in on our communications and hack our devices on an industrial scale.
The Home Office has boasted that its “double lock” system will require a judge to authorise the use of surveillance powers. But in reality the judge will simply check correct procedures were followed, rather than come to their own independent decision. The power to decide whether to spy on a member of the public – or, more realistically, on all members of the public all of the time – will lie firmly with the Home Secretary.
And surveillance is not limited to those under suspicion, or to where serious criminal activity is suspected or has taken place. Innocent people will be caught in the net.
Communications companies will be forced to store every person’s internet browsing history. These logs will be made available to a huge number of public authorities, creating vast databases of private information – a honeypot for hackers.
And even the most confidential communications, like those between a journalist and their source or a constituent and their MP, will receive almost no protection from the spies.
As experts and campaigners have pointed out time and time again, the testimony of whistle-blowers and first-hand evidence increasingly tells us mass surveillance actually makes it harder for security and law enforcement agencies to do their jobs effectively.
But instead of taking stock of these concerns, the Government appointed a panel staffed by former directors of the security and intelligence agencies to conduct a review of these into bulk powers – which failed entirely to consider whether they were necessary.
Not the end of the road
So the Snoopers’ Charter has almost passed, and the practical repercussions – for our justice system, state accountability, our privacy and our security – are significant.
But this isn’t the end of the road. We’ll be watching the State as it watches us.
Liberty is representing Tom Watson MP in a legal challenge to existing surveillance laws. The Government has ignored the opinion of the Advocate General at the Court of Justice of the European Union in that case, who said current provisions for collection of communications data lack vital safeguards – leaving the Investigatory Powers Bill open to immediate legal challenge.
We’ve already begun to offer information security training to members, journalists and other professionals – practical guidance on how people can protect their rights in the digital world. When these powers come into force, we will help equip the public with the knowledge they need to protect themselves from intrusion.
Liberty will never stop standing up for our fundamental rights and freedoms in our increasingly digital world – and demanding an effective, legally-sound surveillance system.
The words of Edward Snowden, written specially for Liberty in our 80th year, are more fitting today than ever:
“To preserve our free societies, we have to defend not just against distant enemies, but against dangerous policies at home. If we allow scarce resources to be squandered on surveillance programmes that violate the very rights they purport to defend, we haven’t protected our liberty at all: we have paid to lose it.”