Monday, April 29, 2013

Open Rights Group Digital Surveillance Report

The Open Rights Group has called for targeted and accountable investigatory powers in their new report, Digital Surveillance: Why the Snoopers' Charter is the wrong approach.


With chapter authors like Duncan Campbell, Caspar Bowden, Peter Sommer and Richard Clayton it couldn't be anything but essential reading. For an 8 minute video summary from Messrs Clayton, Sommer and Campbell check out the video at the ORG website (copy below).

For an amusing ORG skit illustrating just how ridiculous the Home Office plans for the snoopers' charter really are see Professor Elemental builds a Great Machine for Catching Villains.

The Digital Surveillance report concludes that the desire on the part of certain elements of the government to build an infrastructure of mass surveillance is indefensible. ORG argue with some justification the whole area of digital surveillance requires a fundamental evidence-based review with any emergent systems being subject to the checks and balances of the rule of law. That seems a pretty reasonable position to me.
"Just because information is useful to law enforcement does not mean that the state, or law enforcement agencies, or public bodies should be able to order its collection or have access to it. Our privacy rights are essential to ensure that we do not give away the power to collect and use information too cheaply.
The Government’s current proposals, in the form of the Communications Data Bill, is a manifestation of the temptation to grab data where it exists, and of a failure to consider alternatives to blanket collection and retention of data.
Communications surveillance is a useful exercise. But we ask only that it be placed under the rule of law to ensure the effective and accountable use of what are significant powers.
Combined, the articles in this report add up to a call for more targeted, more transparent and more accountable surveillance laws. The authors offer a number of useful recommendations for how to achieve this.
Angela Patrick examines the case for judicial oversight in Chapter 2. She notes that oversight is extremely important where surveillance or data access is kept secret from the person investigated.
Caspar Bowden recommends a policy of ‘data preservation’ rather than blanket data retention. He suggests this could include quick response and emergency processes, and means to intelligently and accountably identify targets. He recommends a unified Surveillance Commissioner capable of carrying out a strong, independent audit with “multi-skilled investigators including human rights and computer experts.”
Joss Wright recommends such audits be supported by stringent penalties for misuse of either powers or data, and for greater transparency.
Simone Halink recommends building user notification into surveillance law, which would require “individuals to be notified by default of a decision authorising the request for their communications data by law enforcement.“ Delays would be appropriate in exceptional circumstances.
Rachel Robinson of Liberty recommends lifting the ban on the use of intercept evidence in court.
Sam Smith of Privacy International recommends investing in law enforcement’s capacity to use and analyse the data already available to them.
Peter Sommer recommends a more overarching review, potentially through a Royal Commission, to properly study surveillance in the digital age.
There is no shortage of ideas that could help inform policy makers’ thinking on surveillance in the digital age. There are other useful resources too. In particular the Draft International Principles on Communications Surveillance and Human Rights, which was put together by a number of civil society groups, provides a “framework against which we can evaluate whether current or proposed surveillance laws and practices are consistent with human rights”.
This includes principles such as user notification, transparency and safeguards against illegitimate access. As Simone Halink points out in her contribution to chapter five, the government’s current proposals fall short when assessed against such principles.
In providing context and recommendations, the articles in this report offer a basis for a conversation about proportionate surveillance laws in the digital age. They are designed to help inform the ongoing policy debate sparked off by the Government’s draft Communications Data Bill and the subsequent inquiry by the Joint Committee."
The report in full is highly recommended but if you're short of time at the moment start by scanning chapters 1 (The history of state surveillance), 3 (Current and future surveillance technology), 4 (Why digital technology poses a problem for surveillance law) and 5 parts I (Data preservation instead of data retention) and VI (The future of surveillance laws).

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