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Journalism academic on surveillance review panel

Professor Heather Brooke helped to produce the Independent Surveillance Review

by Ed Grover (Senior Communications Officer)

A City journalism academic is among the authors of a new report on UK Government surveillance that will be used to inform politicians as they consider new intelligence gathering legislation.

Professor Heather Brooke was asked by the Royal United Services Institute to help produce its Independent Surveillance Review, which was published in July 2015 after a year of investigation and consultation.

The report, titled A Democratic Licence to Operate, was presented to Prime Minister David Cameron and asks for a “fresh start” in the law for the interception of communications.

All panel members have called on the Government, civil society and associated industries to accept its recommendations.

Writing in an article for the Guardian newspaper, Professor Brooke said: “The report… proposes that the security services continue with bulk collection of communications data, but with improved oversight and safeguards.”

The panel was set up by former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, following revelations from the US whistleblower Edward Snowden about intrusions by US and British intelligence agencies into the private lives of citizens.

Members were asked to look at the legality, effectiveness and privacy implications of government surveillance, how it might be reformed and how intelligence gathering could maintain its capabilities in the digital age.

Concluding her Guardian article, Professor Brooke said: “It was also impossible to make judgments about the effectiveness of bulk surveillance techniques because the underlying data is available only to those with a stake in promoting its effectiveness, rather like granting a pharmaceutical company with a drug to sell total secrecy over its clinical trials.

“The best we could do was this: ‘It is unrealistic for the intelligence agencies and some specialist parts of the police service to operate in very transparent ways. They could not be effective if they did. They should, however, be rigorously and independently held accountable, and the oversight mechanisms must themselves be highly transparent to the public’.”

The report concluded that the panel had seen “no evidence” that the British Government “knowingly acts illegally” in intercepting private communications.

However, the authors said there was evidence that the present legal framework authorising interceptions was “unclear, has not kept pace with developments in communications technology, and does not serve either the government or members of the public satisfactorily”.

To read the full report, click here.

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