How we make sure the bulk powers review is meaningful

As he mentions in his letter review of bulk powers is particularly important, if it is done correctly. Any review has to frame its work correctly, however. There are four key issues:

(1) The review cannot possibly assess the efficacy of all of the bulk programmes in three months.

They should therefore narrow their focus to one or two specific programmes or datasets, to understand the full picture in relation to these examples. This should allow the review panelists to get sufficient depth and information to properly understand and question what is taking place.

(2) It must be clear that they are assessing the programmes rather than the powers.

It is much easier to justify a power on the basis that it may be needed sometime, or it has been useful once. If one example of the use of the power appears to have been essential, then the panel may feel compelled to say that the power is needed.

A specific programme however can only be justified in its own terms, i.e. does it work, is it worth the cost, and could alternative methods have led investigators the same conclusions.

By understanding which programmes are manifestly excessive, Parliamentarians, authorisation and oversight bodies and the review can all start to understand how to restrain GCHQ’s activities.

(3) The panel must have the expertise to conduct their investigations

A team of three won’t have everything they need. They therefore need to be able to bring in help, or appoint more people.

(4) The group should be able to recommend a future processes to assess bulk programmes in the future

The panel will not complete the work needed. They need to be clear about what is needed to continue to assess these programmes for efficacy and proportionality during the lifetime of any future Act of Parliament.