Review calls for overhaul of surveillance laws

Security review calls for “comprehensive and comprehensible new law” to govern security agencies’ surveillance powers

By Josh May

11 Jun 2015

A major review has called for a “comprehensive and comprehensible new law” to govern security agencies’ surveillance powers.

David Anderson QC said the existing legislation was "undemocratic, unnecessary and – in the long term – intolerable” and that the country needed a “clean slate”.

Anderson, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, was asked by the government to conduct the review after the Edward Snowden revelations and a row within the Coalition about plans to enhance agencies’ access to data communications.

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Agencies should have “limited powers” to track internet communications, the report says, but must not be “shut out from places where they need access to keep the public safe”.  

“A successful response to these threats depends on entrusting public bodies with the powers they need to identify and follow suspects in a borderless online world,” Anderson said.  

“But trust requires verification. Each intrusive power must be shown to be necessary, clearly spelled out in law, limited in accordance with international human rights standards and subject to demanding and visible safeguards.”

The report says there can be no “master key” to encrypted data on grounds it would “threaten the integrity of our communications and of the internet itself”.


His report calls for the creation of a new body called the Independent Surveillance and Intelligence Commission (ISIC), which would consist of serving or retired judges.

ISIC would be responsible for signing off warrants for intercepting information on suspects, a power which has previously stood with the home secretary.

The review calls on all agencies to be “as open as possible in their work” and argues that they should make the case for greater powers openly.

“Public authorities should consider how they can better inform Parliament and the public about why they need their powers, how they interpret those powers, the broad way in which those powers are used and why additional capabilities may be required,” the document states.


The existing legislation, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, has been “patched up so many times as to make it incomprehensible to all but a tiny band of initiates”, he said.

“A multitude of alternative powers, some of them without statutory safeguards, confuse the picture further. This state of affairs is undemocratic, unnecessary and – in the long run – intolerable.”

Today’s report supports authorities’ right to conduct bulk collection of intercept material, but calls for additional safeguards.


“The opportunity now exists to take a system characterised by confusion, suspicion and incessant legal challenge, and transform it into a world-class framework for the regulation of strong and vital powers. I hope that opportunity will be taken,” the report says. 

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