In 2013, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the UK and US governments were engaging in the mass surveillance of their citizens. Snowden revealed the existence of a range of programmes that were gathering and analysing our private communications.
In the UK, MPs admitted they were not been aware of GCHQ’s capabilities until they read about them in The Guardian. Loopholes in the law had allowed the creation of surveillance programmes without any public or parliamentary debate.
The Don’t Spy on Us coalition came together to challenge this mass surveillance. We outlined six principles for surveillance, called for a public Inquiry into the Snowden revelations and demanded reform of the UK’s broken surveillance laws. Our full policy paper is here.
DSOU six principles for reform
• No surveillance without suspicion
• Transparent laws not secret laws
• Judicial not political authorisation
• Effective democratic oversight
• The right to redress
• A secure web for all
Inquiries into Surveillance
In 2015, three inquiries into surveillance were published:
• The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Privacy and Security: A modern and transparent legal framework (12 March 2015)
• Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, A Question of Trust – Report of the Investigatory Powers Review (11 June 2015)
• Royal United Services Institute, A Democratic Licence to Operate – Report of the Independent Surveillance Review (14 July 2015)
These Inquiries picked up on many of the points that DSOU has been making - in particular that the UK’s surveillance laws were broken and in urgent need of reform. Our response to the Inquiries' findings outlined how the Government should amend the law.
Investigatory Powers Act
In December 2016, the UK Government passed the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA). This was intended to be a comprehensive new law that would replace the UK's broken legal framework for surveillance. However, instead of restricting mass surveillance, it will put all of the powers revealed by Edward Snowden and more into law.
The Investigatory Powers Act lets the security services, police and government departments snoop on our private communications and Internet use. Data about your emails, phone calls, texts and Internet use are hoovered up. Everything you do on the Internet and on your phone can be recorded and stored for a year by your Internet Service Provider. This can be trawled through by Government supercomputers. The police and security services can hack your computer or phone. DSOU member, Big Brother Watch, have created fact sheets that explain the implications of the Bill in more detail.
The IPA gives the UK a surveillance law that is more suited to an authoritarian regime than a democracy. Members of the Don't Spy on Us coalition will continue to challenge this legislation in the courts.