Anderson Report: UK Snooper's Charter 'Unnecessary'

An independent report commissioned by Parliament has called for the reform of the UK’s homeland security-related surveillance laws, to be more transparent and subject to checks and balances.

Senior lawyer David Anderson argued that Britain’s main legislation on electronic surveillance is “incomprehensible to all but a tiny band of initiates,” while other laws are wholly “without statutory safeguards.”

As far as the so-called “Snooper’s Charter,” he recommended that lawful intercept of telephone data and indeed bulk collection should continue to be allowed—but with better oversight.

He also said that an expansion of investigatory powers is unnecessary.

Many in the British government want to see authorities given new powers over electronic surveillance, including the ability to access encrypted communications and mobile data about whom people call, text, instant message and engage with on social media.

“There already are very extensive powers and they need to be properly regulated,” he said in a press conference with reporters.

In the report, Anderson calls for the creation of an Independent Surveillance and Intelligence Commission, populated with several acting and retired judges, to oversee Britain’s intelligence agencies’ surveillance warrant requests and rule on them. That’s a big change from the existing system, which leaves approval in the hands of just one senior minister. It also moves the procedures closer to the US’s FISA Court set-up.

Though the report was created at the behest of legislators, Prime Minister David Cameron, who holds a notoriously pro-surveillance position, is not obligated to make any of the recommended changes. In fact, now that he holds a Parliamentary majority following May’s election he is expected to proceed with an expansion of powers. He has already introduced the Investigatory Powers Bill, which aims to "modernize the law on communications data” in the name of national security and “keeping your family safe.”

It’s a situation that Anderson addressed head-on.

“The threat that I see of not accepting my recommendations, or recommendations along these lines is that people become disenchanted with the whole business of intelligence gathering,” he said. “They believe some of the wilder allegations that came out of the Snowden affair—I would say unfounded wild allegations that the state is reading into people’s emails the whole time, when patently it isn’t.”

He added, “If this sense of disillusionment and disenchantment is perpetuated and spreads further, then I think both law enforcement and intelligence lose the public confidence that they actually need if they are going to do an effective job.”

The 373-page report is the result of almost a year’s work, which is indicative of the Byzantine nature of the legislation examined.

“This state of affairs is undemocratic, unnecessary and—in the long run—intolerable,” Anderson noted, recommending that a new law “should be drafted from scratch.”

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