Minor parties react to public concern over mass surveillance: Labour and Tories silent

Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and the Green Party support tighter controls on government surveillance after Snowden's revelations

The Liberal Democrats have vowed to resist any increase in state surveillance powers following a survey suggesting growing public unease over data privacy.

Research demonstrates that 72% of British adults are concerned about their private information online, worried about hackers and unauthorised access to their data.

Speaking after a YouGov poll – which revealed that UK citizens are concerned that their private information, including emails, chat, files and pictures, is being accessed – a Liberal Democrat party spokesman said reform of surveillance laws is long overdue.

“We are opposed to the blanket collection of UK residents' communications by the police or the intelligence agencies. That's why we killed off the so-called Snooper's Charter, and why we will remain vigilant of any new attempt to extend surveillance powers without good reason."

The partly started what it calls a root and branch review of surveillance laws in government, and claims it has legislated to force the next government to bring forward fresh regulation by the end of 2014.

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Digital Bill of Rights

"We need to use the new Bill to set down very clearly that surveillance can only take place with legal authority and where it is strictly necessary and proportionate,” he said.

Their party’s proposed Digital Bill of Rights, unveiled last week, would protect personal information and impose tougher penalties on theft and illegal sale of data. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said the bill would "stop information about our lives being misused".

The Scottish National Party (SNP) – who may turn out to be the kingmakers in a hung Parliament – have come out strongly against government plans to extend existing surveillance powers.

Peter Wishart, the party’s Home Affairs spokesman in Westminster, outlined the party’s position before the dissolution of Parliament.

“We are talking about sites used by tens of millions of people which contain personal information such as religious and political beliefs, and sexual orientation. These issues are no business of government bureaucrats,” he said.

“While there is a case for updating surveillance measures, with safeguards, to reflect developments in technology, this blanket surveillance goes too far. The UK government’s appalling record of data security will have alarm bells ringing.”

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Questions about democracy and privacy

The Green Party was equally robust, citing MEP Jean Lambert’s statement about Prism – the interception programme used by the US National Security Agency to monitor UK and overseas citizen’s use of the internet, email and social media – as their policy.

“The US has behaved abominably here - and the EU must defend the rights of its citizens from this unwarranted attack on their basic human rights.

"More and more of us are using the internet and smartphones to access basic goods and services, and we really must be able to do so without our privacy being breached," he said.

Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Nationalist party have the strongest position on Prism, citing their MEP, Jill Evans, as defining their policy. They are counting on the EU to provide overarching protection against surveillance programmes such as Prism. 

"These revelations (by Edward Snowden) raise fundamental questions about democracy and privacy. I share the outrage of many people that US intelligence agencies apparently have easy access to our online personal data. Mass surveillance of citizens is unacceptable. We have to ensure that we adopt the strictest data protection standards in the EU in response to this. We have to have the assurance that our privacy is not being breached," she said.

Nigel Farage, the UKIP party leader was unequivocal, dealing directly with the legalities. In response to a letter from a Computer Weekly reporter, raising questions over the legality of US monitoring of UK citizens' internet communications under Human Rights and UK Data Protection laws, Farage said: “Whereas monitoring those suspected of terrorism is one thing, this wholesale interference with the general public on everyday matters is both outrageous, and criminal in this country. Yet there have been no prosecutions.” 

The Conservative and Labour parties opted not to comment or say what their policy on mass surveillance is.

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