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August 19, 2016

Bulk spying powers ‘vital utility’ in terrorism fight, says Anderson review

News: Review calls for independent panel to advise gov't on changing technologies.

By Ellie Burns

A government report has thrown further support behind the controversial IP Bill, saying that bulk interception powers ‘have a clear operational purpose.’

The report, penned by David Anderson, the government’s independent reviewer of terror legislation, evaluated the operational case for four of the powers in the Investigatory Powers Bill: bulk interception, bulk acquisition, bulk personal datasets and bulk equipment interference.

Of the three former bulk powers listed, Anderson found no viable alternative to the use of these powers in the fight against terrorism. The last bulk power, effectively the hacking of phones and computers, was backed ‘in principle’ by Anderson. Commenting on the important role the bulk powers play, Anderson wrote in the report:

“The bulk powers play an important part in identifying, understanding and averting threats in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and further afield. Where alternative methods exist, they are often less effective, more dangerous, more resource-intensive, more intrusive or slower.”

The report will come as a boost to new PM Theresa May who has long been a champion of the bill, know to many as the Snoopers’ Charter. May ordered Anderson’s review before being appointed PM, due largely in part to concerns raised by members of the Labour party.

In a statement, Mrs May said: "Mr Anderson's report demonstrates how the bulk powers contained in the Investigatory Powers Bill are of crucial importance to our security and intelligence agencies.

"These powers often provide the only means by which our agencies are able to protect the British public from the most serious threats that we face. It is vital that we retain them, while ensuring their use is subject to robust safeguards and world-leading oversight which are enshrined in the IP Bill."

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Although the report backed the use of bulk powers, it did make a single recommendation that a panel of experts be appointed to advise on changing technology. Welcoming the recommendation, Antony Walker, deputy CEO of techUK, said:

“Anderson is absolutely right to highlight the need to keep these powers under review to assess the implications of rapidly changing technology.

“We strongly support the recommendation that an independent panel of academic and industry experts be appointed to advise Government on emerging technologies and the future utility of bulk powers.

“As technology evolves it is essential that those overseeing and authorising bulk powers are informed by independent industry experts to ensure that their decisions do not undermine the security of the devices and networks that we all depend upon in our daily lives.”

The IP Bill has long been controversial and is still currently undergoing legislative scrutiny. The Bill has provoked debate surrounding mass surveillance and the impact that it will have on privacy should it pass. Explaining the concerns around privacy, Pryvate CEO Jonathan Parker-Bray said:

“The greatest issue with mass surveillance from a privacy perspective is that it affects innocent people more than it affects people with something to hide. The Government has repeatedly demonstrated that they would welcome a weakening of encryption – further reducing the protections available to the general population and a disregarding people’s right to have secure private communications online.

“The important thing to underline is that a balance needs to be struck here, the Government does need tools to fight cybercrime and criminals who use mobile devices to communicate in the digital age and normal citizens and businesses have the right to private communications.”


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