Labour calls for 'massive overhaul' of government surveillance

News by Doug Drinkwater

Britain's Labour Party wants to change how GCHQ and other spy agencies collect data, and reinforce that cyber crime is increasingly commonplace.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper addressed a Demos Event on Monday, and a transcript of her speech was published on the Labour Party website beforehand.

The speech revealed that the opposition party is seeking a significant reform of how surveillance is carried out, but – at the same time – wants to give police and other authorities the power to tackle the growing threat of cyber crime.

“In the face of growing online crime and abuse, and the use of online communications by criminals and extremists, the police, intelligence and security agencies need to be able to operate more effectively in this digital world,” reads a transcript of her prepared speech.

“But for them to do so, we also need stronger safeguards and limits to protect our privacy and sustain confidence in their vital work.

“Above all we need the Government to engage in a serious public debate about these new challenges and the reforms that are needed. Online communication and technology is forcing us to think again about our traditional frameworks for balancing privacy and safety, liberty and security. The Government can't keep burying its head in the sand and hoping these issues will go away – they are too important for that.”

Cooper, an outside tip for the Labour leadership should Ed Milliband fail to win the general election next year, said that Edward Snowden's revelations on NSA and GCHQ surveillance had been damaging, but went onto call for sweeping changes to the accountability of intelligence agencies as well as the out-of-date Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).

Cooper's speech – which also noted some worry over the proposed NHS database - drew praise for alerting people to the rise of cyber crime, but also attracted criticism for a lack of action.

The Don't Spy On Us Campaign, a coalition between UK and international civil liberties groups – including Privacy International and Big Brother Watched, welcomed the talk.

“The Don't Spy on Us campaign welcomes the speech by Labour's Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper and her calls for reform of the oversight and legal frameworks for surveillance," the group wrote on its website. "She is right to contrast the strength of the political debate in the US with the very muted reaction here in the UK, even though GCHQ has engaged in the very same mass population surveillance as the NSA.

“The question for Labour is whether they will back our campaign's six principles for reform. Independent judges, not the Home Secretary, should sign off on surveillance. Cooper should push for a legal framework where surveillance must be necessary and proportionate - not fishing expeditions through our private data or mass data collection. Without such reform, our rights are not adequately protected.”

Cyber security expert Alan Woodward, a Visiting Professor at the Surrey University, cast doubt on Cooper's aims and tweeted on Twitter. “Labour to call for tougher action against cyber crime in speech today by Yvette cooper. But it's not the first time they've said it.”

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Video and interviews