[IRPCoalition] Open Letter to Parliamentarians on UK Surveillance Laws

Easton, Catherine c.easton at lancaster.ac.uk
Wed May 20 19:14:49 EEST 2015

Dear all,

Please see below in relation to a drafted open letter on ensuring the democratic process is respected as UK surveillance law is revised.  The letter itself is included after the initial email asking for support/comments.



Dear colleagues,

As I am no doubt you are aware the UK Government recently made changes to UK surveillance laws to allow law enforcement bodies and intelligence agencies to hack computers without fear of prosecution under the Computer Misuse Act. This was done with very little transparency and almost no consultation. You can read Privacy International’s take on this here (https://www.privacyinternational.org/?q=node/584). While we do not want to become a group of open letter-writers (I know very many of you signed last week’s letter to Google on RTBF) we feel this is a very important issue of openness and accountability which we must comment upon. Building on the DRIP letter which some of you signed last year we propose an open letter (attached) to the new intake of the House of Commons. We are focussing on government accountability and respect for the democratic processes of Parliament. We hope to jolt some of the new intake into the Commons into taking responsibility for scrutiny of the Government’s surveillance strategy, in particular with the Snoopers’ Charter almost certain to be in next week’s Queen’s Speech.

Please let me know by Saturday (23 May) if you'd like to sign (provisionally) by sending me your name/title as you'd like it to appear. Edits and suggestions are welcome, please ensure they arrive with me by 23 May. I would also be most grateful if you could forward to others who are interested. I will circulate a final draft on Sunday 24 May to those who wish to sign, when we hope to finalise. Our plan is to offer the letter to UK news outlets on Monday 25 May for publication on Tuesday 26 May ahead of the Queen’s Speech the following day. We also plan to circulate the letter via email to all 650 MPs on Tuesday 26 May.

If you have any suitable contacts in the media who may be interested in publicising this, please do make them aware of this.

Best wishes,

Andrew Murray A.Murray at lse.ac.uk<mailto:A.Murray at lse.ac.uk> (and also on behalf of Paul Bernal)


An open letter to all members of the newly formed House of Commons,

Ensuring the democratic process is respected as UK surveillance law is revised

During the past two years, the United Kingdom’s surveillance laws and policies have come under scrutiny as the increasingly expansive and intrusive powers of the state have been revealed and questioned in the media. Such introspection is healthy for any democracy. However, despite a need for transparency in all areas of lawmaking, and in particular in areas of controversy, the Government has repeatedly resisted calls for an open and transparent assessment and critique of UK surveillance powers. Instead, in response to legal challenges, the Government has been trying to extend the powers of the state in the guise of draft Codes of Practice and “clarifying amendments.” As we approach yet another round of revisions to the UK’s surveillance laws, with the likelihood that the Queen’s Speech will signal a revival of the so-called “Snoopers’ Charter” the Government must ensure that any changes in the law, and especially any expansions of power, are fully and transparently vetted by Parliament, and open to consultation from the public and all relevant stakeholders.

Last year, in response to the introduction of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (“DRIP”), a number of leading academics in the field – including many of the signatories to this letter called for full and proper parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill to ensure Parliamentarians were not mislead as to what powers it truly contained. Our concern emanated from the Home Secretary’s attempt to characterize the Bill, which substantially expanded investigatory powers, as merely a re-affirmation of the pre-existing data retention regime. (see http://bit.ly/1jNzlUz).

Since that letter was written, it has become apparent that the introduction of the DRIP Bill was not the only time an expansion of surveillance powers was presented in a way seemingly designed to stifle robust democratic consideration. In February 2015, the Home Office published a draft Equipment Interference Code of Practice (http://bit.ly/1yiXUZD). The draft Code was the first time the intelligence services openly sought specific authorisation to hack computers both within and outside the UK. Hacking is a much more intrusive form of surveillance than any so far authorised by Parliament. It also threatens the security of all internet services as the tools intelligence services use to hack can create or maintain security vulnerabilities that may be used by criminals to commit criminal acts and other governments to invade our privacy. The Government, though, sought to authorise its hacking, not through primary legislation and full Parliamentary consideration, but via a Code of Practice that receives far less formal scrutiny.

In a similar move, the Government surreptitiously pushed though an amendment that exempts the police and intelligence services from any criminal liability for hacking via the recently passed Serious Crimes Act 2015.  That change was described in the Bill’s explanatory notes as merely a “clarifying amendment” (http://bit.ly/1LfVFz3). This description seems to have contributed to the concealment of the real impact the change would have which was to provide a new exception for law enforcement and GCHQ to hack without criminal liability. This has had an immediate impact on the litigation of several organisations who are in the process of suing the Government based in part on the law which was amended, the Computer Misuse Act (http://bit.ly/1S4RCdJ).

As already noted the new Government has announced its intention to propose new surveillance powers in the coming days, through a resurrection of the “Snoopers’ Charter” based upon the recommendations of the Intelligence and Security Committee report (http://bit.ly/1AhNW2o), published in March. We also anticipate this Parliament will see an overhaul of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which currently controls much of the Government’s surveillance powers.

Given the nature of surveillance powers as inherently a power which must be employed proportionate to the harm to privacy caused (as required by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) we believe that any expansion or change to the UK’s surveillance powers should be proposed in primary legislation, the consequences of which are fully and frankly revealed and debated in Parliament. The Government should not be permitted to surreptitiously change the law whenever it so desires, especially where such changes put our privacy and security at risk.


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