Stokoe Partner Brian Swan comments on the Anderson Report and Theresa May’s ‘Snooper’s Charter’

The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, published an important report last week entitled ‘A Question of Trust’. The report, commissioned by the government last July, examines surveillance and counterterrorism legislation in the UK, and contains recommendations on updating current investigatory powers.

Anderson claims in his report that existing legislation is fragmented and variable, suggesting that each intrusive power needs to be revised for greater clarity and justification in accordance with the international human rights standard. He maintains, nonetheless, that these powers to intercept certain types of communication can be necessary to counter threats such as online fraud, terrorism and child sexual exploitation. However, each intrusive power must be shown to be necessary in order to investigate an appropriate case, and the parameters of these powers must be clearly spelled out in law and subject to judicial oversight.

The report also recommends that intelligence agencies should retain the power to carry out the bulk collection of personal data in the interception of criminal communications, subject to ‘additional safeguards’.

Anderson’s recommendation is particularly significant in light of Home Secretary Theresa May’s new Draft Communications Data Bill (also known as the ‘Snooper’s Charter’), which requires internet and mobile phone companies to maintain records of each user’s web history and activities for a year in order for police and security services to access them, if necessary.

This report is long-overdue and confirms what we have known for some time; that our counterterrorism laws are no longer fit for purpose and sacrifice our personal privacy on the altar of national security. While we welcome the proposal to increase judicial oversight at the expense of ministerial involvement, the recommended preservation of bulk collection of personal data remains of serious concern.

Frankly, for it to have taken so long for us to have any sort of examination of this matter is a disgrace. Hopefully, the recommendations made in the report will go some way to improving the situation but in my opinion the proposals do not go far enough. The bulk collecting of personal data is an unforgivable invasion of privacy. We have all been victims of a quasi-police state with no effective system of oversight and we will remain so unless further steps are taken to overhaul counterterrorism legislation in this country.