The UK Government has published a review of the UK’s spying practises. Launched in response to the revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden about government surveillance, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament’s report defends the government’s spying practises, and calls for new legislation to replace the “piecemeal” legal framework currently in place.
It’s a weighty, 149-page document, and we’re still working through it. But here are some of the key things we’ve found so far:
GCHQ, a UK spying agency, is actively working to break encryption products. Encryption has been a hot topic recently, with law enforcement fearing that the increase in use of encryption products will mean that they will be less able to tackle crime and terrorism. Privacy activists, meanwhile, argue that strong encryption is necessary to keep people safe online, and any concessions or “backdoors” are open to abuse by hackers and put the public at risk.
The report says GCHQ has three main strands in a program to overcome encryption. Two have been redacted, but one is “developing decryption capabilities” — suggesting they are actively working to develop encryption-breaking tools. One or both of the redacted strands could involve persuading technology companies to introduce backdoors.
The report has “serious concerns” over a lack of transparency. This isn’t in the public interest, it argues, and is pushing for a new Act of Parliament to govern spy agencies.
Bulk surveillance has stopped specific threats to the UK. But “these examples cannot be published, even in redacted form, without significant risk to GCHQ’s capabilities, and consequential damage to the national security of the UK.” Here’s what the report shows:
Spies have been fired for inappropriately accessing data on British citizens.There has been misuse — but staff have been disciplined on it.
The report argues fears about mass surveillance is overblown. There isn’t the technical capability or desire to intercept everyone’s communications, it argues.