Surveillance Transparency is Now More Important Than Ever

With the announcement of emergency legislation on the retention and interception of communications data the question of safeguarding the privacy of individuals should be foremost in the minds of legislators.

However the speed that the Bill is tabled to progress at raises concerns over the amount of scrutiny it will receive. If the Government wants to force communication service providers to retain citizens’ data then they must be prepared to open the system to a greater deal of transparency than is already in place.

As Big Brother Watch has repeatedly pointed out it is possible to increase the level of transparency around surveillance without compromising security. In the US the Department of Justice publishes information provided by federal and state officials on orders authorizing or approving interceptions of wire, oral, or electronic communications in annual reports.

The Government’s transparency around the acquisition of communications data has recently been criticised by the Interception of Communications Commissioner, Sir Anthony May. He argued that “the unreliability and inadequacy of the statistical requirements is a significant problem which requires attention.” This followed the Home Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into Counter-Terrorism measures, which found that there was a need for greater transparency around the use of surveillance legislation.

Big Brother Watch believe that the following amendment will lead to greater transparency, build trust amongst the public and improve accountability within the intelligence services. We are sending it to Members of Parliament for their consideration, you can help by writing to your MP to add your voice to the calls for surveillance transparency.

Amendment (1) Transparency on data collection

New clause:

To require any public authority requesting data requested from a communications service provider to maintain proper records including:

a) The category of offence being investigated

b) The length of time the data had been retained by the CSP when it was requested

c) The type of data requested, as per the definitions in s21 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

Amendment (2) Legal certainty for transparency reporting

RIPA s54(6): To add (c): Where the disclosure was made within an aggregated statistical disclosure covering a period of time greater than six months.



The second amendment concerns the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Specifically it addresses the ‘tipping off’ offence, which is often cited as a reason why companies cannot release transparency reports. This amendment would prevent the use of detailed data making an individual aware they are the subject of an investigation, but would allow statistics to be made available at six monthly (or greater) intervals.