Joanna Cherry MP: UK surveillance powers have gone further than any other Western democracy

Joanna Cherry MP QC says UK surveillance powers have gone ‘further than any other Western democracy’

THE UK has gone “further than any other Western democracy” in its extension of surveillance powers, according to SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC.

The comments were made during a panel discussion held by Scottish PEN, an organisation which works to defend freedom of speech, after a screening of documentary film The Haystack, which explores the UK Investigatory Powers (IP) Bill. 

The IP Bill was introduced by the UK Government in a bid to extend surveillance and data-gathering powers – a move the government says is necessary in order to fight terrorism in the modern day. The new surveillance powers will permit UK intelligence agencies to collect, store and access information about internet users, which is stored online, but critics of the Bill say it infringes on civil liberties and personal privacy.

Cherry, who sat on the IP Bill committee as it went through parliament, said: “At least the IP Bill is honest about the fact that it permits the collection of bulk data. However, we shouldn’t be too congratulatory of the Bill as we have now gone further than any other Western democracy."

Cherry, a member of the SNP who has previously vocalised her concerns over the surveillence powers that the IP Bill contains, explained to the panel audience that while  surveillance powers are necessary to protect the country from terrorist threats, security measures need to be justified.

“America has rolled back from bulk collection at the very time the very time that Britain is trying to roll out greater surveillance powers on a statutory basis” Joanna Cherry QC MP

“The SNP felt that the Bill should be in accordance with European Union law, that we shouldn’t be going further than other Western democracies and that we were interested in having suspicion-based surveillance rather than suspicionless surveillance,” she said.

Suspicion-based surveillance is when intelligence services have an interest in a particular person or organisation that they wish to target using surveillance. In some cases, they will require the approval of an independent judicial system, as well as the approval of parliament, before being able to carry out suspicion-based surveillance. In contrast, suspicionless surveillance, one of the most controversial aspect of the Bill, refers to the collection of bulk data without any justifiable reason why the data is needed.

“We shouldn’t be going further than other Western democracies”  Joanna Cherry QC MP

The SNP unsuccessfully opposed the IP Bill, which was passed by the House of Commons in March 2016. Cherry expressed concerns over the EU’s position on the Bill, claiming that “certain aspects of the Bill will not survive under the European Convention on Human Rights, if we manage to stay in the EU”.

She went on: “America has rolled back from bulk collection at the very time the very time that Britain is trying to roll out greater surveillance powers on a statutory basis.”

America’s surveillance powers, which were previously controlled by the Patriot Act, were called into question in 2013 as a result of documents leaked by NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden. Since then, the US has replaced the Patriot Act with the Freedom Act, passed on 2 June 2015, which permanently bans US intelligence agency NSA from collecting telephone records of private US citizens in bulk. The UK IP Bill permits the collection of bulk data, as opposed by the SNP.

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