The UK’s investigatory powers bill, or the 'Snoopers Charter' as it is known, received its second reading in Westminster today.

At present the draft law fails to meet international standards for surveillance powers and requires significant revisions to do so.

A letter recently signed by human rights campaigners highlighted the following aspects of this draconian legislation:

  • This is a law that gives public authorities generalised access to electronic communications contents compromises the essence of the fundamental right to privacy and may be illegal. The investigatory powers bill does this with its “bulk interception warrants” and “bulk equipment interference warrants”.
  • International standards require that interception authorisations identify a specific target – a person or premises – for surveillance. The investigatory powers bill also fails this standard because it allows “targeted interception warrants” to apply to groups or persons, organisations, or premises.
  • Those who authorise interceptions should be able to verify a “reasonable suspicion” on the basis of a factual case. The investigatory powers bill does not mention “reasonable suspicion” – or even suspects – and there is no need to demonstrate criminal involvement or a threat to national security.
  • These are international standards found in judgements of the European court of justice and the European court of human rights, and in the recent opinion of the UN special rapporteur for the right to privacy. At present the bill fails to meet these standards – the law is unfit for purpose.

RISE Member Nick McKerrell, a signatory to the letter, has reacted to the SNP decision to abstain on today’s second reading:

"Along with many other lawyers I signed a letter outlining the unacceptable nature of the current Investigatory Powers Bill.

"Given that, I was surprised at the position adopted by Labour and in particular the SNP in abstaining on this Bill. It breaks basic tenets of Human Rights Law. 

"As it stands it will be subject to legal challenge. A truly radical opposition needs to defend civil liberties at every opportunity.

"Even though the vote today may not have stopped the Bill it would have laid down an important marker of opposition to this idea.

"From now on Parliament will only tinker at the edges of the core idea central to the law."

RISE stands resolutely against all measures aimed at eroding our civil liberties, and believes that is also what those who elected SNP MPs to Westminster expect when it comes to this draconian charter.