Hundreds of lawyers sign letter condemning new snooper’s charter

More than 200 lawyers have said theInvestigatory Powers Bill breaches international surveillance standards and is not fit for purpose ahead of its second reading in the House of Commons today.

In a letter to The Guardian, senior lawyers condemned the bill, which sets out a legal framework facilitating GCHQ’s mass interception of data, as fundamentally flawed.

The letter is signed by chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee, Kirsty Brimelow QC, Professor Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, former Court of Appeal judge Sir Stephen Sedley, Michael Mansfield QC and Philippe Sands QC.

It is also signed by academics, including several from Scottish universities, including Professor Lillian Edwards, Dr Liz Campbell, Dr Kirsteen ShieldsDr Gavin W Anderson, Aidan O’Donnell and Dr Christopher McCorkindale.

The government has argued bulk interception of private data is necessary as a first step in pursuing terrorists and criminals and that extraneous material is never read.

However, the United Nations special rapporteur on privacy, Joseph Cannataci, said last week that the bill would legitimise mass surveillance.

The letter states: “First, a law that gives public authorities generalised access to electronic communications contents compromises the essence of the fundamental right to privacy and may be illegal. The investigatory powers bill does this with its ‘bulk interception warrants’ and ‘bulk equipment interference warrants’.”

It goes on to argue the bill is too broad “because it allows ‘targeted interception warrants’ to apply to groups or persons, organisations, or premises.”

Finally, there is no provision in the bill for “reasonable suspicion” or a requirement to demonstrate criminal activity or a threat to national security.

The letter adds: “These are international standards found in judgments of the European court of justice and the European court of human rights, and in the recent opinion of the UN special rapporteur for the right to privacy. At present the bill fails to meet these standards – the law is unfit for purpose.

“If the law is not fit for purpose, unnecessary and expensive litigation will follow, and further reform will be required. We urge members of the Commons and the Lords to ensure that the future investigatory powers legislation meets these international standards. Such a law could lead the world.”

The SNP and Liberal Democrats will oppose the bill in today’s vote while Labour will abstain.

Speaking to Scottish Legal News, Mark Leiser, a PhD candidate at Strathclyde University and the London School of Economics, said: “The IP Bill empowers the UK government to unnecessarily intrude into the private lives of UK citizens and not only authorize bulk interception, but legitimize mass surveillance.

“The bill carries a disproportionate extension of state powers to retain all traffic data on our internet usage described in the guide to the bill as ‘a record of the internet services a specific device has connected to, such as a website or instant messaging application’. This means that security services will be able to potentially read the content of all decent citizens’ communications and will have a chilling effect on our private correspondence.

“It is an important that all citizens remain intellectually free to communicate alternative ideas without falling foul of the security services. The chilling effect of surveillance will force users to migrate toward mainstream ideologies. This bill is the Orwellian dystopia that many privacy advocates have long feared.”

Eric King, director of Don’t Spy On Us, said: “The government’s approach to this important reform has been wrong from the very beginning: they’ve sought to make bad habits lawful, rather that chart a new and legitimate course for the future.

“The fact so many of the bill’s key provisions fall short of international standards cannot simply be pushed aside. A full redraft of this flawed bill is needed for it to stand the test of time. Anything less is simply a waste of parliament’s time.”