Tired Of Losing Legal Challenges To Its Surveillance, UK Government Secretly Changes Law So It Can Win

from the that's-cheating dept

Against all the odds, legal challenges to UK surveillance are succeeding, as Techdirt has reported. At the forefront of bringing cases against GCHQ is the rights group Privacy International. In May 2014 it asserted that GCHQ’s activities were illegal under the UK’s Computer Misuse Act (CMA), which criminalizes breaking into digital systems. A year later, and just hours before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal hearing of Privacy International’s complaint against GCHQ, the UK government revealed the following:

only a few weeks after the claim was filed, the [UK] Government quietly introduced legislation on 6 June 2014 that would amend the CMA to provide a new exception for law enforcement and GCHQ to hack without criminal liability. The change not only affects Privacy International’s claim, but also grants UK law enforcement new leeway to potentially conduct cyber attacks within the UK.

That is, the UK government was implicitly admitting that GCHQ’s activities were, once again, illegal, but fixed that problem with the simple expedient of changing the law to make them legal. That on its own is questionable, although some might say that spies and the police need to have immunity when carrying out certain authorized acts. But the real issue here is another: the fact that this change was pushed through with none of the usual scrutiny or debate accorded to laws with important effects. As Privacy International explains, although the UK government published an explanatory note about the proposed amendment, it neglected to mention its true impact. Moreover:

It appears no regulators, commissioners responsible for overseeing the intelligence agencies, the Information Commissioner’s Office, industry, NGOs or the public were notified or consulted about the proposed legislative changes. There was no published Privacy Impact Assessment. Only the Ministry of Justice, Crown Prosecution Service, Scotland Office, Northern Ireland Office, GCHQ, Police and National Crime Agency were consulted as stakeholders. There was no public debate.

This is essentially secret law-making, where the only people consulted are the ones who will benefit. That’s troubling at the best of times, but especially so in the context of a government abusing its powers to avoid yet another embarrassing defeat in the courts.

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Comments on “Tired Of Losing Legal Challenges To Its Surveillance, UK Government Secretly Changes Law So It Can Win”

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20 Comments
tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The prime minister and cabinet are part of the legislature in the UK, and control the majority party.

Which, in theory, should get the PM the Executive branch and the Commons. In theory, there’s a senate/House of Lords out there also made up of appointees who’re not necessarily beholden to the PM or the party. Canada’s senate bills itself as the voice of sober, second thought. In reality it’s all moribund.

Hans says:

We Yanks don't have that problem...

Luckily we solved that problem over here with our fancy Constitution thingy with its extra-bonus Bill of Rights.

Now whenever the Executive wants to do something illegal, they just get Dick Cheney to say the law means whatever the Executive wants it to mean!

Then when “we the people” catch wind of it and start pointing out it’s illegal, they make “Freedom Act” to make it legal.

Er, wait… just that’s just like over there in the UK… Derp.

Personanongrata says:

Legal Does Not Equal Moral

Expediency and tyranny holding hands in perfect harmony as the pliably supine cretins operating within the UK government fold like cheap lawn furniture in the face of secret police state laws.

Never forget that everything the National Socialists did in Germany was legal. Same goes for the USSR or any other tyranny in found human history.

The real question is:

Are these secret laws moral?

Anonymous Coward says:

One thing that will not happen: Change

One thing that will happen: Big scandal revealing blackmail and surveillance of political opposition of those in power. Opposition and public will be outraged finally and other party will come to power.
New party has the power and suddenly does not see reason to change laws in meaningful ways. Instead will use same tactics to insure place at the top.
Rinse and repeat.

I hate to be cynical, but I don’t see this changing in any good way for many years to come with our current selection of politicians and power players. Doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try though.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: One thing that will not happen: Change

The UK is a two party system, sadly.

We’ve got the Tories currently in power, who’re trying to pass that snooping bill now that nobody (read: Liberal Democrats) can stop them, as well as making vague “extremism” illegal.

The other party the dumb sheeple of the UK vote for is Labour, who passed that nasty little RIPA act, as well as making possession of certain drawn pornography illegal.

The UK is really one of the most repressive first world countries on the planet.

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