Snoopers charter faces opposition for concentrating power in secret services
THE SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY will oppose UK Government plans to create sweeping new powers for mass surveillance of phone and internet records - but the plans are likely to pass due to Tory support and Labour abstentions.
The Investigatory Powers Bill, dubbed the ‘snooper’s charter’ by critics, has led to outcry from civil liberties campaigners, journalists and political groups after its introduction to parliament.
Focus on UK spying practices were brought into the spotlight by US whistleblower Edward Snowden, which led to a court finding GCHQ spying practices were illegal.
More recently it emerged that MPs private emails were also being collected by UK secret services, despite the principle of confidentiality for politicians in their correspondence.
Campaign group Liberty have been at the forefront of opposition to the Snoopers Charter, warning that the bill contains numerous threats to online privacy, legal protections, and security due to hacking.
Controversial measures include: a lack of judicial oversight for surveillance warrants; blanket retention of internet records, new hacking powers and the legalisation of mass data retention as revealed by Edward Snowden.
New leaked documents, reported by The Intercept, revealed previous concerns from inside the UK Government that MI5 was collecting too much private surveillance date, making it harder to focus on serious threats to national security.
Snowden also argues that the US-UK approach to surveillance and hacking - including the use of ‘backdoors’ in security software - increases the threat to those countries from cyber-terrorism.
SNP justice and home affairs spokesperson Joanna Cherry QC said the party would vote against the bill due to a lack of concessions from the Tory government.
“It is now clear that SNP MPs will be forced to vote against the Investigatory Powers Bill at its third reading,” Cherry said.
“Despite months of discussion and debate, the UK government has failed to make a convincing case for such wide-ranging new powers and it has failed to deliver the necessary robust safeguards and independent oversight that these powers would require.
“The SNP is clear that while the security services and the police require adequate powers to fight terrorism and serious crime, it is vital that any new powers are proportionate, focused, and in accordance with law.”
Snowden described the various proposals as “the most intrusive and least accountable surveillance regime in the West.”
While the SNP abstained at the second reading of the bill, following a failure to commit to further amendments from the UK Government the party decided to oppose the legislation.
This means that the vast majority of Scottish MPs will oppose the charter.
Cherry added: “While we welcome the attempt to consolidate a number of statutes, and to have a modern and comprehensive law, the home secretary has failed to make an adequate case for internet connection records and for bulk powers, and as many of the powers sought in this bill are of dubious legality and go far beyond those provided for in other Western democracies, the onus is on the UK Government to provide sufficient justification for these powers, to ensure they are targeted, and to provide robust safeguards and independent oversight.
“Governments should always seek to build cross-party support for laws of this kind but rather than listening and responding to the genuine concerns that the SNP has raised throughout the legislative process about the nature, extent and implementation of these wide-ranging new powers the UK Government has instead dismissed and rejected nearly all of our amendments at every stage.”
Similar concerns were expressed by Nik Williams of Scottish Pen, part of the international organisation to defend freedom of expression.
Williams told CommonSpace: “It looks like the concessions offered by Theresa May have satisfied the Labour party, while the SNP, led by Joanna Cherry QC MP, have publicly stated that they are prepared to oppose the bill.
“The fracturing of the opposition looks set to give the bill a clear path through the House of Commons, leaving huge questions unanswered about the government's commitments to civil liberties.
“Scottish Pen does not believe the current amendments to be sufficient to adequately protect free speech and privacy. We join the SNP MPs in calling for both bulk powers and internet connection records to be scrapped from the bill, among other key changes we believe necessary. These powers have no place in any other modern democracy and the operational case has not been made for them to be in place in the UK.”
Picture courtesy of UK Parliament TV
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