from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong? dept
One of the key themes to emerge in the debate about surveillance is the oversight of the agencies involved, and to what extent it is effective. In the US, that has been put into stark relief by news that the committee that is supposed to keep an eye on the spies was itself spied upon. And now over in the UK, we learn that things are just as bad when it comes to the equivalent oversight body, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT). Its powers sound impressive:
The Tribunal can investigate complaints about any alleged conduct by, or on behalf of, the Intelligence Services - the Security Service (sometimes called MI5), the Secret Intelligence Service (sometimes called MI6) and GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters).
Unfortunately, the IPT's credibility as the public's watchdog for the intelligence services has just been seriously undermined by the following information published by The Guardian:
The scope of conduct the IPT can investigate concerning the Intelligence Agencies is much broader than it is with regard to the other public authorities. The IPT is the only Tribunal to whom complaints about the Intelligence Services can be directed
A controversial court that claims to be completely independent of the British government is secretly operating from a base within the Home Office, the Guardian has learned.
It gets worse:
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which investigates complaints about the country's intelligence agencies, is also funded by the Home Office, and its staff includes at least one person believed to be a Home Office official previously engaged in intelligence-related work.
the IPT will not say whether GCHQ had disclosed the existence of its bulk surveillance operations, which attempt to capture the digital communications of everybody -- including those people who complain to the tribunal.
So the body tasked with overseeing GCHQ has to get GCHQ's permission before it can reveal any wrongdoing by GCHQ, which it doesn't bother doing when it knows it would be refused. Isn't oversight a wonderful thing?
Nor will it disclose whether it has issued any secret ruling on the lawfulness of those operations, on the grounds that the rules under which it operates stipulate that it cannot do so without the permission of GCHQ itself. It has not sought that permission on grounds it knows it would not be given.