UK to review laws governing spy agencies in 2014

Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) is calling for written submissions for its inquiry into the laws governing intelligence agencies

Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) is seeking written submissions for its inquiry into the laws governing intelligence agencies.

The call comes after top technology firms joined forces to advocate urgent reforms of all internet surveillance programmes such as Prism in the US, and Tempora in the UK.

The alliance of eight companies said in an open letter to US authorities that the documents leaked by Snowden “highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide”.

Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said there was no doubt that the surveillance laws of UK and the US are not fit for an internet age.

In October, the ISC announced it was to broaden its inquiry into whether the current statutory framework governing access to private communications remains adequate.

The inquiry will consider the appropriate balance between the individual right to privacy and the collective right to security.

There have been growing calls for such reviews after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the extent of internet surveillance being carried out by government intelligence agencies.

The appearance of the heads of the three UK intelligence agencies in a public hearing by the ISC in November prompted more calls for review after they insisted they had acted within the law.

The ISC is asking for written submissions from those who wish to contribute to the inquiry. They must be no more than 3,000 words long and include an executive summary of up to 500 words.

The committee is looking for evidence on:

  • What balance should be struck between the individual right to privacy and the collective right to security.
  • How this differs for internet communications when compared to other forms of surveillance.
  • To what extent it might it be necessary and proportionate to monitor or collect innocent communications in order to find those that might threaten national security.
  • How the intrusion differs between data (the fact a call took place between two numbers) as opposed to content (what was said in the call).
  • Whether the legal framework that governs the security and intelligence agencies’ access to the content of private communications is ‘fit for purpose’ in the light of technology developments since they were enacted.
  • Proposals for specific changes to specific parts of legislation governing the collection, monitoring and interception of private communications.

The deadline for submissions is Friday 7 February 2014.

The ISC intends to hold oral evidence sessions once written submissions have been reviewed, with a number of these sessions to be held in public.

Those invited to give oral evidence will be selected from among those who have provided written submissions.

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