LCHR welcomes the Intelligence and Security Committee inquiry into privacy and security

Two days ago the Intelligence and Security Committee announced that it would look into the legislative framework governing surveillance and the intelligence agencies, a move that signals a positive change in the wake of the Snowden disclosures. The Committee intends to examine the appropriate balance between privacy and national security, and whether there is a need for a broader review of powers currently wielded by the intelligence agencies. It has also agreed to accept written evidence from the public, a decision that constitutes an exception to its standard procedure. 

LCHR warmly welcomes the inquiry. What is more, the Committee’s willingness to open up to evidence from the public undoubtedly shows its readiness to engage in an informed and responsible debate.

Meanwhile, the debate on the transparency and accountability of intelligence services has been gathering pace. In his defence of the Guardian published today, Tom Watson calls for a parliamentary debate on mass surveillance, and Tempora in particular. He claims that instead of investigating the newspaper, the Prime Minister should turn his attention to what is possibly one the biggest civil rights violations the UK has seen to date.

The Guardian has been subjected to attacks from the politicians and the media alike, despite its unique contribution to the national debate on the right to privacy. LCHR believes that its journalists have been acting in the public interest, reporting conscientiously on the lack of accountability and oversight, and the possible abuse of power. LCHR continues to support the Guardian’s investigation into this topic, valuing its commitment to civil liberties and freedom of expression.

LCHR statement on the recent NYT/Guardian/ProPublica revelations

Three days ago the Guardian, New York Times and ProPublica jointly published fresh revelations on the extent of the efforts made by the intelligence agencies of the US and UK to unlock internet privacy.

The various news articles that have come forth describe a systematic attack on the very foundations of the internet, and of the privacy and freedoms of ordinary internet users everywhere. They also describe how technology companies and internet service providers have colluded with authorities in these efforts. These actions amount to an indiscriminate surveillance of innocent citizens, and an attack on fundamental freedoms.

Although it is right that the authorities take measures to tackle crime and terrorism, this does not justify the establishment of a system of mass surveillance. The intelligence agencies in question, namely the US’s National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK’s Government Communications Head Quarters (GCHQ), have used a variety of covert measures to crack the encryption which secures online activities such as internet banking, confidential medical record keeping and e-mail accounts. This action undermines the trust with which individuals, businesses and organisations use the internet, and also acts to blur the lines between ordinary citizens and suspected terrorists. While government officials insist that these revelations should not be published or discussed, LCHR believes that a public debate about government powers is a key element of democracy and that it is not acceptable to prevent it.

While it is understandable that not all material can be released for public consumption, no area of government activity should be exempt from democratic scrutiny and rendered immune to challenge.

LCHR responds to David Miranda detention

LCHR responds to David Miranda detention

On the 18th of August David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald’s partner, was detained by the British police at Heathrow Airport and interrogated for 9 hours under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. The explanation given by Scotland Yard, as well as Home Secretary Theresa May, who had prior knowledge of police action, was that Miranda was carrying journalistic material that could pose a danger to national security if it fell into the hands of terrorists.

A thoroughly unjustified attack on freedom of the press, Miranda’s detention has rightly caused outrage around the world: no government is entitled to threaten and to intimidate journalists who report on civil rights abuses.

LCHR would like to join dozens of civil society organisations in condemning police treatment of David Miranda as a dangerous and reckless misuse of the Terrorism Act. As Charles Falconer, former Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, has said, Schedule 7 was never designed for this purpose.

Access to confidential sources plays a crucial role in journalists’ work, especially when it is used to report human and civil rights violations. If such confidentiality cannot be guaranteed, the abuse of power is less likely to reach public consciousness.

LCHR would also like to voice concern over Schedule 7 itself, which, as this case has demonstrated, appears to be far too open to misuse. We welcome the Shadow Home Secretary’s demand that this be urgently investigated. LCHR believes that steps should be taken to ensure the law does not allow for this kind of misuse.