The Anderson report on surveillance has (according to the media) suggested that UK security services should “keep” their powers of bulk surveillance – the downloading and storing of communications and internet material, basically without limit except the limitations of the technology they have. The report has come out in the same week that the Metropolitan Police were unable to confirm or deny (for which read “confirmed”) that dummy mobile phone towers, or Stingers, were lifting material from the phones of passers-by, apparently ad hoc and without specific investigatory purpose.
But it is really not clear that bulk surveillance powers do have legal sanction in Britain – and nor does Anderson say unequivocally that they do. Which is why, when Theresa May’s new “snooper’s charter” legislation comes through, she will be legalising something she claims is perfectly legal already – but really isn’t.
So what is the law? The key piece of legislation is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) – which Anderson wants replaced. This is often referred to as source of surveillance powers for just about anyone from GCHQ to schools checking on the residency of parents of local authorities looking at our recyling. In fact it is intended to control, curb, restrict and limit surveillance – and in particular it is intended to prevent the state’s (and private bodies’) disproportionate bulk downloading and retention of the private information – which is just what the security forces do now as far as they technically can and which they will be able to do far more effectively under the snooper’s charter, requiring ISPs, Google and the rest to keep such information for them. Read the rest of this entry