Home Secretary Theresa May has made concessions on the so-called ″snooper′s charter″. An amended version of the Bill, passed through the House of Commons on 6 June, still gives the government, police, and security services unprecedented powers to invade the privacy of ordinary citizens without warrant, regardless of whether or not they are accused of committing any crime.
The Bill also brings in powers to compel communication companies to cooperate in investigations, and to store and hand over records. The Bill contains sanctions against whistleblowers and gagging orders that prevent public knowledge of when data has been sequestered or when surveillance has taken place.
The concessions made by the government last week include: a privacy clause which stipulates warrants should only be granted where the information cannot be gathered by other means; protection for journalists meaning that the judicial commissioner will be required to consider ″the overriding public interest″ when granting warrants; rules which mean the prime minister must give explicit, approval for surveillance of MPs phones and computers; and the legal test for warrants for bulk personal datasets and medical records to be raised to ″exceptional and compelling″ cases only; and protection from surveillance of ″legitimate″ trade union activities.
These concessions do not amount to much — merely the government setting itself slightly tighter regulations while having the same powers. Given the history of blacklisting and state surveillance during the miners′ strike, what the state would like to consider ″illegitimate″ trade union activities could be quite wide!