LCHR publishes briefing on human rights dangers of the first 100 days of this government

Today LCHR published our new briefing entitled “Human Rights and the New Tory Government – Three Dangers in the Next Hundred Days.”

The briefing covers three of the biggest and most immediate human rights dangers posed by the new government. The dangers are the proposed repeal of the Human Rights Act, the introduction of a “Snooper’s Charter”, and new anti-strike laws.

You can download or read a copy of it here.

LCHR needs your help

Dear friends,

The result of the general election has been hard for us all. Many excellent Labour candidates have lost out on a place in Parliament. The policies we voted for and invested our hopes in will not be implemented. For human rights, the situation is precarious. The Conservatives are intent on using their majority in Parliament to scrap the Human Rights Act and expand mass surveillance powers with a new Snooper’s Charter.

We need your help to stop them. Over the next few weeks and months the fight will be on to save the Human Rights Act and stop the expansion of mass surveillance powers. With your help, LCHR will be leading that fight.

Please consider donating £10 to LCHR to help us win this fight. You can donate online by clicking here. Without funding, our hands our tied. We rely on your donations to lobby MPs, hold events, and develop new policy ideas for protecting human rights. It is vital that we can play an active role and champion your voice in the difficult days ahead. Please consider helping us to do that.

Thank you,

Andrew Noakes
Director
LCHR

LCHR publishes human rights case studies briefing

LCHR is very pleased to publish our latest briefing, Our human rights: six case studies that show how human rights help ordinary people. The briefing details six indispensable case studies for showing how human rights help ordinary people.

As we distill our message on human rights for the election campaign, it’s vital to focus on concrete examples of how human rights can have a positive impact on people’s lives. This will help to challenge the narrative that human rights only benefit unpopular groups in society.

The case studies we have selected include cases where human rights have helped rape victims, elderly people in hospital, LGBT people, and disabled people fighting the bedroom tax. They also include a reminder that human rights can help child abuse victims.

LCHR releases briefing for parliamentary candidates on mass surveillance

Today LCHR published its guide for parliamentary candidates on mass surveillance. This document provides information about mass data surveillance following the Edward Snowden revelations in 2013 and the continuing debate about the balance between privacy and security in a digital age. This briefing can be used by candidates to inform messaging on the doorstep, be used as a basis for articles, and to inform comments during hustings.

You can view or download the document here. 

If you have any questions or comments about the breifing please contact our Director Andrew Noakes at andrew.noakes@lchr.org.uk

Blog: Rifkind’s resignation could herald a new era for parliamentary oversight

Andrew Noakes writes for LCHR’s blog about Malcolm Rifkind’s resignation from the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Malcolm Rifkind’s resignation as Chair of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) comes at an awkward time, just a few weeks before the Committee is due to report on its review of the legislation governing surveillance.

The ISC has come in for considerable criticism following the Snowden revelations about GCHQ’s mass surveillance activities. The Committee, which is responsible for scrutinising the UK’s intelligence agencies, appeared to be caught off guard by the revelations that GCHQ has been collecting and storing the personal communications data of innocent people en masse.

The ISC has been accused of being too soft on the intelligence services, and it’s not hard to see why. The public, televised appearance of intelligence chiefs before the ISC back in November 2013 was essentially a scripted performance, with the chiefs being given the questions beforehand. What was meant to be an exercise in transparency and accountability became yet another example of how transparency and accountability are so lacking.

Why is the ISC a soft touch? To begin with, most of its members hold opinions about the balance between liberty and security that naturally favour mass surveillance. By contrast, the Home Affairs Committee has a significant contingent of civil liberties advocates like Yasmin Qureshi and David Winnick. The difference is that the ISC’s members are selected by the prime minister, whereas Parliament picks the Home Affairs Committee’s members. This ensures a broader range of opinion.

Of course, the Chair of the ISC is also picked by the prime minister. This means they’ll likely be a loyal government MP like Rifkind, leading to obvious questions about their capacity to conduct objective and independent scrutiny.

Rifkind’s resignation is an opportunity to put some of this right. And this shouldn’t be seen as an attack on the ISC or its members, many of whom have considerable expertise in security issues and real dedication to advancing the debate. Rather it should be seen as a way of re-asserting the ISC’s role as the leading oversight body for the intelligence services and a champion of transparency, accountability, and democracy.

One way forward would be to adopt a new convention that the Chair of the ISC should always be an opposition MP, ensuring a greater likelihood of rigorous scrutiny. It would also be prudent for the ISC’s members, like with every other parliamentary Committee, to be appointed by Parliament and not by the prime minister. At the very least, Parliament should have the ability to veto the prime minister’s choices if a majority can be mustered. In the age of coalitions and multi-party politics, this may have a significant impact.

If Parliament could have a stronger role in selecting ISC members, the presence of some civil liberties advocates on the Committee should ensure more rigorous scrutiny of the security services and help prevent the ISC from being accused of weakness once again.

The ISC should also have more powers. Calling the intelligence chiefs to a public hearing should not be a negotiation, but a legal power of the Committee. And, finally, the ISC should consult more with civil society. The current review of surveillance legislation included submissions from NGOs with expertise in this area; this should become a precedent rather than an exception.

To ensure our intelligence services operate within a framework where both liberty and security are protected in equal measure it will take more than just ISC reform. We also need to look at developing a stronger role for the judiciary in authorising surveillance – the current system where ministers issue surveillance warrants is rather like a single person acting as judge, jury, and executioner. And there must be a new law that gives the public greater protection against indiscriminate or unwarranted surveillance.

But reforming the ISC is an important start. It will pave the way for greater scrutiny and accountability, helping to build a culture of respect for civil liberties as well as ensuring we have the security protection we need. Rifkind’s resignation could herald a new era for parliamentary oversight.

Launch of pocket-sized guide for activists

Last year we published our pamphlet aimed at identifying the best way to defend human rights against Tory attacks called Human Rights on the DoorstepToday we have launched a shorter, quick guide that activists can carry with them to defend the Human Rights Act on the doorstep.

The two-page guide includes a fact-check on what human rights are, making the case for human rights, some case studies which show why the Human Rights Act is needed and how to tackle human rights myths.

This will enable activists to engage with voters on human rights issues and to push back against negative perceptions. It is important to explain to voters that our human rights laws reflect centuries of British values and that the Human Rights Act protects thousands of people every day. This will help to demonstrate why the party is backing the Human Rights Act.

You can view and download the guide here.

If you have any comments about the guide, do not hesitate to contact LCHR’s Director at andrew.noakes@lchr.org.uk.

Kettering CLP passes motion on mass surveillance

We’re very pleased that Kettering CLP has joined Battersea CLP in passing our model motion on data surveillance. For the full motion, see below.

CLP motion against mass surveillance

In 2013, the whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the existence of a mass surveillance programme operated by the UK government. It gives the government access to information such as who we send messages to and which websites we browse. This surveillance is not targeted at suspected criminals or terrorists, but rather at the entire population.

In July 2014, Parliament passed the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIP), entrenching aspects of mass surveillance into UK law. It passed with little scrutiny or debate.

This CLP notes:

  1. Information about our communications and internet use can reveal intimate details about our lives, including our health, legal and financial affairs, and relationships.
  1. There is a distinction between carrying out surveillance against an individual suspected of a crime or involvement in terrorism, and mass surveillance carried out against the whole population regardless of innocence or guilt.
  1. There is potential for abuse or misuse of surveillance powers. In recent years the security services and police have been accused of spying on or infiltrating groups of political activists, students’ unions, human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, charities like UNICEF, unions, and prominent individuals in the Labour Party like the Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan and Doreen Lawrence.
  1. The public are sceptical about mass surveillance. A poll from May 2014 shows that 88 percent of people believe their phone records, for example, should be kept private.
  1. The stated intention of the Conservative Party is to increase mass surveillance with further legislation in 2016 when DRIP expires.
  1. There is a need for the Labour Party to demonstrate it can responsibly balance privacy and security.
  1. The way DRIP was passed with little scrutiny or debate risks undermining public confidence in the security services and Parliament.

This CLP resolves:

  1. Any legislation dealing with an issue as complex and ethically challenging as data surveillance should always be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny and debate, and it is regrettable that DRIP was not.
  1. Surveillance is a vital tool in tackling terrorism and crime, but it should only be used if there is reasonable suspicion of the subject’s involvement in such activity.
  1. The Snowden revelations have shown there is a need for greater oversight of the security services to ensure they have the public’s confidence. Authorisation of surveillance by a judge would also be a helpful step in ensuring proper accountability.