Around 70 people attended our PRISM and Tempora event in Parliament yesterday, hosted by Tom Watson MP. The speakers, Caspar Bowden, Simon McKay and David Davis MP, helped give context to some of the recent claims on surveillance made by the government.
The executive claims that all is well with secret surveillance, and that there is nothing to worry about, as everything that takes place is under a strict legal framework. And of course, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.
Coincidentally, David Willets on Question Time made the same points about obeying the legal framework as William Hague did after the original PRISM leak from the Guardian.
However, the main message from both Caspar and Simon was that the US and UK legal framework is woefully lacking to the point of irrelevancy.
Bowden explained that UK citizens lack any constitutional protections in the USA as 'foreign nationals'. FISA s702 contains provisions to target people for broad foreign policy reasons, which in practice means anything political that could be of interest to the US government. He explain that protections for whistleblowers and warnings when data is transferred to regimes like the US are needed in data protection law.
David Davis MP then outlined the political situation in the UK. He noted that the leaks from Snowden had changed the atmosphere surrounding surveillance questions, and that the oversight regime was broken. He said he believed that we have a chance to review the whole of the Act under which this surveillance is being carried out, RIPA. He later extended rare praise to the EU Commission and Viviane Reding in particular.
Simon McKay explained the UK legal framework, starting with provisions that require secrecy from agencies, in ways that can be used to hinder effective oversight. He showed that RIPA section 80 allows more or or less any kind of intelligence activity to be lawful. He described RIPA's oversight provisions as essentially a 'voluntary code'.
The discussion led into questions on the Snoopers' Charter; apparently the Joint Committee are livid with the lack of disclosure they were given surrounding intelligence sources. The justifications made by Theresa May at the time, that it was needed on the basis of terrorism and serious crime, do not now look well founded.
We'd like to thank all three speakers and Tom Watson for hosting the event.