April 17, 2015 | Ed Johnson-Williams

Surveillance in the General Election Manifestos

Nearly all of the main parties at this General Election have now published their manifestos. Where do the parties’ manifestos stand on surveillance?


We’ve picked out the most relevant parts from their manifestos on surveillance.

You can read more of what the parties have said in their manifestos on all the issues relevant to ORG on our wiki. There are also links to the original documents so you can have a look at them.

Labour


We will need to update our investigative laws to keep up with changing technology, strengthening both the powers available, and the safeguards that protect people’s privacy. This is why Labour argued for an independent review, currently being undertaken by David Anderson. We will strengthen the oversight of our intelligence agencies to make sure the public can continue to have confidence in the vital work that they do to keep us safe.


Labour have provided a rather vague statement on their plans. They call for “strengthening the powers available” but it isn’t clear which powers they think need strengthening. We are also unclear on which safeguards they think need to be put into place to protect people’s privacy. Improving oversight of the intelligence agencies is an important area to reform. In our view though, it is also important that the powers and capabilities of the intelligence agencies, as revealed by Edward Snowden, are limited to targeted surveillance on people suspected of crimes. Labour have not committed to any change to the bulk collection of our internet use that GCHQ currently undertakes. It is disappointing that a party which makes so much of its support for the Human Rights Act elsewhere in its manifesto does not see the human rights of privacy, freedom of speech and association as important enough to change its approach to state surveillance.

Conservatives


We will keep up to date the ability of the police and security services to access communications data – the ‘who, where, when and how’ of a communication, but not its content. Our new communications data legislation will strengthen our ability to disrupt terrorist plots, criminal networks and organised child grooming gangs, even as technology develops. We will maintain the ability of the authorities to intercept the content of suspects’ communications, while continuing to strengthen oversight of the use of these powers.

[W]e will ban the police from accessing journalists’ phone records to identify whistle-blowers and other sources without prior judicial approval.


The Conservatives want to increase the surveillance powers available to the police and intelligence agencies. Like Labour, there is no detail on which powers they would strengthen in particular. They say they will introduce "new communications data legislation" which we can only assume is a revamped Communications Data Bill - commonly known as the Snoopers' Charter. The bulk collection of the content of our communications revealed in the documents released by Edward Snowden is not addressed. It is right that police should need judicial approval before they can access journalists’ phone records but judicial authorisation for surveillance should be sought before surveillance on all of us, not just journalists. There is no explicit mention of David Cameron's previously stated principle that all communications should be accessible by the state even when they have been encrypted.

Liberal Democrats


We will:

  • Ensure judicial authorisation is required for the acquisition of communications data which might reveal journalists’ sources or other privileged communications, for any of the purposes allowed under RIPA; and allow journalists the opportunity to address the court before authorisation is granted, where this would not jeopardise the investigation.
    ...
  • Ensure proper oversight of the security services.
  • Establish in legislation that the police and intelligence agencies should not obtain data on UK residents from foreign governments that it would not be legal to obtain in the UK under UK law.
    ...
  • Oppose the introduction of the so-called Snooper’s Charter. We blocked the draft Communications Data Bill and would do so again. Requiring companies to store a record of everyone’s internet activities for a year or to collect third-party communications data for non-business purposes is disproportionate and unacceptable, as is the blanket surveillance of our paper post.
  • Set stricter limits on surveillance and consider carefully the outcomes of the reviews we initiated on surveillance legislation by the Royal United Services Institute and the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation David Anderson QC. We are opposed to the blanket collection of UK residents’ personal communications by the police or the intelligence agencies. Access to metadata, live content, or the stored content of personal communications must only take place without consent where there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or to prevent threats to life.
    ...
  • Uphold the right of individuals, businesses and public bodies to use strong encryption to protect their privacy and security online.

The Liberal Democrats give much greater detail on what they would like to see on the issue of surveillance than Labour or the Conservatives. This should be welcomed. We are happy to see that they oppose the blanket collection of UK residents’ personal communications by the police or intelligence agencies. It will be interesting to see whether they retain their opposition to blanket collection if the reports mentioned above in their manifesto do not share their position. There is also a good commitment to the right to use strong encryption online. We welcome the Liberal Democrat’s call for judicial authorisation before journalists' communications data is accessed but we think this should be necessary before bulk collection of our communications is carried out.

Scottish National Party


We do not support Tory plans for the reintroduction of the so-called ‘snoopers’ charter’, which would see all online activity of every person in the UK stored for a year. Instead, we need a proportionate response to extremism. That is why we will support targeted, and properly overseen, measures to identify suspected extremists and, if necessary, examine their online activity and communications.


It is good to see that the SNP opposes the Snoopers' Charter on the grounds that storing everyone's online activity is a disproportionate response to extremism. Their support for surveillance being targeted at the online activity of those identified as suspects is very welcome. We hope that they would apply these principles to their position on surveillance legislation in the future.

 

UKIP


Currently, British intelligence is fragmented between a number of agencies, including MI5, MI6, GCHQ and BBC Monitoring. All have different funding streams and report to different government departments. This generates a significant overlap in work and resources and risks exposing gaps in the system.

UKIP will create a new over-arching role of Director of National Intelligence (subject to confirmation hearing by the relevant Commons Select Committee), who will be charged with reviewing UK intelligence and security, in order to ensure threats are identified, monitored and dealt with by the swiftest, most appropriate and legal means available. He or she will be responsible for bringing all intelligence services together; developing cyber security measures; cutting down on waste and encouraging information and resource sharing.


At our recent civil liberties hustings in Brighton Pavilion, the UKIP candidate said that his party opposes “all general surveillance”. There is no sign of that in their manifesto. They say nothing about which surveillance powers GCHQ should have, how they should be overseen and how they should get authorisation. There are currently two reviews of surveillance being carried out and their manifesto mentions neither of them. It is surprising, to say the least, that after nearly two years of news about GCHQ surveillance, UKIP’s only response is that there are too many intelligence agencies and that too many resources are being wasted.

Green Party of England and Wales


We would:

  • Oppose any case for secret unaccountable mass surveillance of the type exposed by Edward Snowden. We do accept that government law enforcement agencies may occasionally need to intercept communications in specific circumstances. Such specific surveillance should be proportionate, necessary, effective and within the rule of law, with independent judicial approval and genuine parliamentary oversight.
  • Replace the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which has failed
    • to regulate the deployment of undercover police;
    • to support the confidentiality of journalistic sources;
    • to support legal confidentiality; and
    • to enshrine an open and effective right of redress.

The Green Party have released a manifesto with very strong commitments on surveillance reform in line with the calls of the Don’t Spy On Us campaign. They are the only party to mention Edward Snowden in their manifesto! Their calls for targeted surveillance that is proportionate and with independent judicial authorisation are very welcome. They also note the problem that victims of inappropriate surveillance do not currently have a right of redress; another of the Don’t Spy On Us principles.

Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru have not included anything about surveillance in their manifesto.

 


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