A committee of the British Parliament has proposed legal reforms to Britain's intelligence agencies that are mostly cosmetic and would do little to protect individual privacy.
In a report published on March 12, the Intelligence and Security Committee acknowledged that agencies like MI5 collect, sift through and examine millions of communications. Most of this is legal, the committee said, and justified by national security. It
proposed a new law that would tell people more about the kind of information the government collects about them but would not meaningfully limit mass surveillance. That is hardly sufficient for a system that needs strong new checks and balances.
As things stand now, intelligence agencies can monitor vast amounts of communications and do so with only a warrant from a government minister to begin intercepting them. Lawmakers should limit the amount of data officials can sweep up and require them
to obtain warrants from judges, who are more likely to push back against overly broad requests.
The parliamentary committee, however, did not see the need to limit data collection and concluded that ministers should continue to approve warrants because they are better than judges at evaluating diplomatic, political and public interests. That
rationale ignores the fact that ministers are also less likely to deny requests from officials who directly report to them.
The committee's acceptance of the status quo partly reflects the fact that Britons have generally been more accepting of intrusive government surveillance than Americans ; security cameras, for instance, are ubiquitous in Britain. But the committee
itself was far from impartial. Its nine members were all nominated by Prime Minister David Cameron, who has pushed for even greater surveillance powers.
The Intelligence and Security Committee publishes the findings of its Privacy and Security Inquiry while Open Rights Group has published its own report into the activities are GCHQ and their impact on British citizens.
The consequences of GCHQ's activities have the potential to harm society, the economy and our foreign standing. These have not been fully explored by Parliament. We hope that this report helps MPs to understand the range of GCHQ's activities and the fact
that they affect ordinary people not just those suspected of threatening national security.
Open Rights Group responded to the Intelligence and Security Committee's report into Security and Privacy. Executive Director, Jim Killock said:
The ISC's report should have apologised to the nation for their failure to inform Parliament about how far GCHQ's powers have grown. This report fails to address any of the key questions apart from the need to reform our out-of-date
surveillance laws. This just confirms that the ISC lacks the sufficient independence and expertise to hold the agencies to account.
A report published by Open Rights Group, has called for the reform of oversight mechanisms, including the Intelligence and Security Committee, so that they are truly independent, accountable to Parliament and have sufficient
technical expertise to tackle the technical, legal and ethical issues around surveillance. We also call for reform of the laws that allow surveillance to be replaced by new comprehensive surveillance legislation that complies with human rights law and
reflects the current technical landscape.
These would mean:
Targeted surveillance not mass surveillance
Prior judicial authorisation for all surveillance decisions
Increasing the legal protection for communications data so that it is the same as for the content of communications
Ending statutory definitions that are out outdated in the digital age -- such as the current distinctions between 'internal' and 'external' communications.
The conclusion from the cross-party group of senior MPs and peers on the intelligence services -- who operate within the ring of secrecy -- that Britain's complex web of surveillance laws needs replacing with a single act of parliament would never
have happened without those disclosures taking place.
Their recommendation that this new legal framework must be based on an explicit avowal of intrusive surveillance capabilities and spell out authorisation procedures, privacy constraints, transparency requirements, targeting criteria and the rest is also
UK MPs have been advised that internet encryption services can be used in the public interest, as well as for criminal purposes. Furthermore a repressive ban on online anonymity networks such as Tor would be technologically infeasible and unwise.
The advice for MPs contradicted the Prime Minister David Cameron, who has said law enforcement should be handed the keys to encrypted communications.
One expert said the document showed Cameron's plans to be noble , but ultimately unworkable.
The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (Post), which issues advice to MPs, said that there was:
Widespread agreement that banning online anonymity systems altogether is not seen as an acceptable policy option in the UK. Even if it were, there would be technical challenges.
The report, published on Monday 9 March, cited the example of the Chinese government, which attempted to block access to Tor in order to enforce bans on unauthorised websites. In reaction, it said, the body that maintains the network, simply added bridges
that were very difficult to block , allowing people to continue accessing Tor.
Theatre productions that contain nudity will be exempt new repressive licensing laws covering
sexual entertainment, the Scottish 'Justice' Secretary has said.
Michael Matheson moved to reassure MSPs that the proposed new licensing regime will not impact on artistic freedom of expression on the stage enjoyed by the cultural elite.
Holyrood's Local Government and Prudery Regeneration Committee has heard that measures in the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill could have an inadvertent impact on risque shows. The Bill would allow local authorities to ban sexual entertainment
venues in an area.
Jon Morgan, director of the Federation of Scottish Theatre, told the committee last month that this could affect performances at the Edinburgh Festival which contain nudity or explore issues such as pornography. His concerns were raised by independent
MSP John Wilson, who asked Mr Matheson to give theatres an assurance that they would be exempt from the legislation.
We've heard in evidence as a committee from theatre group representatives who were concerned that they may be impacted upon in terms of their artistic expression by some vexatious complaints or other individuals using the legislation as proposed to shut
down certain theatre productions.
I think it's a fair point to be raised and a reasonable concern for some establishments to actually have. That is why we're going to take forward some guidance in order to give some specific direction around this area about the types of premises and
circumstances that would be exempt in these circumstances, so that could be for example a theatre production that does involve some nudity in it for a particular performance or series of performances that they are operating.
Parliament's Culture, Media and Sport Committee's has published a report on a wide range of issues about the BBFC. In
particular the report calls for the BBC to be funded by a tax on all households, not just those watching the BBC.
The document is the result of an 18-month inquiry and may form a key plank in the government's approach to charter renewal.
It provides a scathing assessment of the BBC Trust and calls for the governing body to be replaced by a unitary BBC board -- chaired by a powerful nonexecutive -- and a separate Public Service Broadcasting Commission (PSBC), which will hold the
corporation to account and have wider industry duties.
The MPs put forward a new vision for BBC governance. They said a unitary board should be established, comprising a government-appointed non-executive chairman, a majority of independent directors and a small number of executives, including the
The report also calls for the censorship duties of the BBC Trust to be transferred in their entirety to the current TV censor, Ofcom.
'Justice' Secretary Chris Grayling has been speaking of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which was expected to get Royal Assent today,
This bill extends the definition of extreme pornography to include the depiction of rape with vague definitions that will surely see hundreds of people likely to become victims when police make commonplace and routine computer searches.
The government has also increased the maximum penalty to 2 years for those who send internet insults that the authorities deem to be abusive.
The All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into anti-Semitism wants prosecutors to examine whether prevention
orders like those used to restrict sex offenders' internet access could be used against people who make remarks taken as insulting about religion. The cross-party group highlighted in particular the use of anti-Semitic terms online.
The Parliamentary inquiry was set up following an unsurprising rise in incidents in July and August last year during Israel's onslaught against Gaza. The hashtags Hitler and genocide featured with high frequency , during the period.
The MPs said social media platforms had increasingly been used for the spread of anti-Semitism . Their report said the terms Hitler and Holocaust were among the top 35 phrases relating to Jews during the conflict.
Although the primary focus of the inquiry was anti-Semitism, one recommendation it made was that those who carry out any kind of hate crime should be prevented from using social media.
People convicted of Islamophobia and homophobia would be put on a blacklist to warn future employers of past misdemeanours
under scary new proposals by Labour.
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, will on Monday reveal a strategy against antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia and insult of people with disabilities. The package includes making homophobic and disability hate crimes an aggravated
criminal offence, ensuring that police treat such offences in the same way as racist hate crimes.
Cooper will outline changes to the criminal records framework whereby such offences will be clearly marked on the criminal records. Currently, records checks do not highlight homophobia, disability or transgender identity as a motivating factor in a
conviction, and do not automatically appear in police data used for vetting applicants in sensitive vocations, such as those working with vulnerable people, including the disabled.
Measures to combat the role of social media in disseminating insults will also be unveiled. These include a review of police and guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that crimes such as antisemitism on social networks such as Twitter are
Labour would also introduce programmes in schools to tackle antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobic bullying and targeting of disabled children. We need to look at what more we can do to prevent discrimination, bigotry and hate taking hold in the first
place, said Cooper.
Four lords who champion the surveillance state have been defeated for a 2nd time in reviving the Snooper's Charter.
Former Tory defence secretary Toim King finally withdrew the massive amendment in the face of defeat by the combined vote of Labour/Tory and LibDem peers.
The amendment would have required every phone and internet company to store for 12 months the entire personal online history or communications data of all their customers, in such a manner as to facilitate invasive database searches for information by
the police and secret services.
Tom King said:
Our failure to take this exceptional opportunity which could have sent this to another place [the Commons] means that the risk to fill this gap will be longer than it need be. We just have to pray that we do not pay too high a price for that.
King was backed by three other senior peers, Labour's Alan West, the Liberal Democrat Alex Carlile and crossbencher Ian Blair, a former Metropolitan commissioner.
David McLean, who chaired the parliamentary joint committee examining the bill, said they had spent six months going through the same proposals in the draft communications bill in detail in 2012 and came to a unanimous verdict. They reported it was too
sweeping in scope, that it failed to address the issue of blogs, that it needed safeguards against fishing expeditions , and that it needed to be substantially redrafted to prevent it being a snooper's charter.
Four members of the House of Lords have attempted to bring back from the dead the Communications Data Bill --
otherwise known as the Snoopers' Charter. The entirety of the bill that had previously been rejected (or at least put on hold) by Parliament -- some 18 pages in all -- was added as a late amendment to the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill
currently passing through the Lords. This is utterly cynical at best, and a total abuse of parliamentary procedure at worst.
The Communications Data Bill is the one which required ISPs (or any telecommunications provider') to keep a log of all activity associated with an individual or IP address. Whilst ostensibly requested for 'security reasons (being played up again
in the light of the Charlie Hebdo murders in France) -- this mass retention of data is nothing less than oppressive, unwarranted, mass surveillance of the entire populace.
We know all too well from the Snowden revelations that power is abused by those who hold it -- and that there is mission creep in the data retained and the uses to which it can be put. There is no reason to think that this would be any different.
Previously the bill had been rejected in scrutiny by a joint committee of the Lords and Commons for a variety of reasons - amongst them the fact that the Home Office had totally underestimated the cost involved as well as the lack of any evidence that
there is any benefit to be had by requiring ISPs to hold this data. It was also requested that the Independent reviewer on Terrorism legislation, David Anderson, reviewed and commented on the bill and Parliament is still waiting for his response to the
Given all that, it is shocking and simply unacceptable that four unelected Lords are attempting to pass this draconian legislation, not in its own right, but as a late amendment to a current bill. It is a total abuse of parliamentary procedure and means
that this legislation will not suffer the intense scrutiny that a new bill would, but instead would be passed in a backhanded fashion without review and consideration by both Houses.
The House of Lords is intended in our parliamentary system to be a revising chamber -- adding a totally new bill as an amendment to an existing one completely goes against that entire principle. The very fact that they feel it is necessary to
bring the bill in this underhand manner shows that they clearly don't have any faith in the ability of the legislation to stand up to proper scrutiny.
The rushed passing of the #DRIP legislation set the worrying precedent for this kind of action by parliament when seeking to pass contentious legislation that avoids scrutiny. As a party we warned of the dangers of Parliament passing controversial and
oppressive surveillance laws without appropriate time or scrutiny. Despite the calls of both ourselves and others, that bill passed into law.
The House of Lords has rejected amendments to the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill which would have introduced substantial parts of the Communications Data Bill, more commonly known as the Snoopers' Charter .
The amendments were withdrawn at the request of Lord Bates, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Home Office, who argued that including the amendments at such a late stage could jeopardise the entire Bill.
Lord Bates promised to investigate the possibility of sharing more widely a redrafted version of the draft Communications Data Bill, apparently written to take into account the Joint Committee's recommendations , but which has so far been kept
under wraps by the Home Office.
The Scottish Labour MP Thomas Docherty has written to the British culture secretary inferring that Adolf Hitler's book, Mein Kampf should be banned.
He is calling for a national debate on whether the sale of the book should be banned in the UK.
Docherty has written to culture secretary Sajid Javid about the text, pointing out that it is currently rated as an Amazon bestseller . An edition of Mein Kampf is currently in fifth place on Amazon's history of Germany chart, in fourth
place in its history references chart, and in 665th place overall. He wrote:
I think that there is a compelling case for a national debate on whether there should be limits on the freedom of expression.
And of course the inevitable '...BUT...' He said i n his letter there are:
Many who would argue that the publication of books as repulsive as Mein Kampf is the price of living in a democracy, and that by allowing academic study of books such as this, we ensure that our society understands better the causes of fascism and the
origins of Nazism.
there are also many who would argue that such a book, which sought to incite racial hatred and fuel antisemitism, is too offensive to be made available.
And of course he doesn't want to be as vulgar as actually calling for a ban, he would much rather find somebody else to utter those words:
I'm not saying it should be banned, I am saying we should absolutely have a debate about whether or not it should be banned,
Could you have for argument's sake a system of academic licensing, a system in which institutes of learning were permitted to publish and teach it? Let's have the debate. Let's ask, in the 21st century, are there limits to free speech?
Scotland's new Licensing (Scotland) Bill is currently being discussed by the Scottish Parliament. A committee invited Professor
Phil Hubbard, who has been following such issues, to speak about the experiences in England where similar control laws have been in place for some time.
He spoke of the expenses incurred by councils when their morality based decisions to ban table dancing clubs are formally challenged in the courts.
Hubbard noted that a one-size-fits-all policy for all Scottish councils would prevent the farcical situation in England and Wales where one council's decision to refuse a strip club licence can be successfully challenged - at great expense to the
council - because a neighbouring council is more liberal.
National guidelines should be set on licensing fees - which range from £300 to £26,000 down south - and the amount of nudity permitted on show, he told Holyrood's Local Government Committee.
National guidelines were backed by the women's anti lap dancing campaign group, Zero Tolerance.
But the strip clubs' trade association warned against central government imposing a draconian regime on councils, arguing that the ban on religious comedy Life Of Brian in Glasgow or the ban on cult French porn movie Emmanuelle in some rural
cinemas demonstrates the diverse moral sensibilities in Scotland's communities which should be respected.
I think the introduction of the Police And Crime Act 2009 in the UK was by and large farcical in terms of the way it was allowed to proceed.
What we have in England and Wales is a situation that I would like to see avoided in Scotland, where we have a licensing regime for these establishments in one local authority but not in a neighbouring one.
Fees for these establishments range from £300 to £26,000.
We have a situation where some local authorities will ban nudity and others will not.
The whole situation has led to a whole range of appeal cases and litigation in which legal unreasonableness and inconsistency have been raised as valid concerns, and some of these appeals have been upheld.
It has created a great deal of anxiety, expenditure and time for local authorities who have been left to evolve policies of their own.
He didn't appear to mention much about the suffocating uncertainty and the effects of arbitrary moral censorship on businesses trying to make a living.
Ed Miliband told the Andrew Marr Show he would not support new emergency legislation if it was modelled on the snooper's
charter. He said he would adopt a cautious and considered approach in answer to calls for increased surveillance powers for the intelligence agencies.
Miliband was speaking after Lord West of Spithead, the former security minister in Gordon Brown's government, called for a revival of the data communications bill, known as the snooper's charter.
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister, declined to offer support for the bill, proposed by the home secretary, Theresa May, that would give the police and security services the ability to track the email and internet use of UK citizens.
West told the same programme that it would be wrong to rush in legislation. But he criticised Clegg for forcing the government to abandon the data communications bill. He said:
Normally we stop plots because we get a heads up because we know people are talking to each other. That is why that intercept is so important. Most of the plots we have stopped in this country because of that initially indicator. If they are talking then
it is really difficult to do anything about it.
Responding to calls to revive the communications data bill, aka the Snoopers Charter, Emma Carr, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said:
It is wholly unacceptable for this tragedy in Paris to be used as a means to call for a return of the Snoopers Charter. It is the wrong solution and would divert resources from focused surveillance operations at a time when the agencies are
already struggling to cope with the volume of information available.
The Government is introducing legislation to solve the important problem of who is using a specific Internet Protocol address, but the powers within the Snoopers Charter go too far, as recognised by a number of Political figures and two Parliamentary
Instead, the government should focus on the number of failures to continue monitoring those suspected of posing a threat. Those failures should be used as a blueprint to re-evaluate the decision making and record keeping processes of the intelligence
agencies, as well as the training and resources allocated within the counter terrorism community.