I have been contacted recently by a number of constituents regarding potential changes to surveillance laws and oversight. I know there is real public concern about this extremely important issue, especially given that the Conservative Government has included proposals on this in the Queen’s Speech.
I believe it is crucial that our surveillance laws are proportionate and effective in meeting the terrorist threat Britain faces and in countering new and growing threats such as cybercrime. I also believe that existing oversight and legal arrangements are now out of date that there are difficult wider challenges about privacy, data and the private sector.
What we need to do as a society is to strike an appropriate balance between personal freedom and protecting national security. Any new powers for the security services need to be accompanied by stronger safeguards to protect our privacy and the liberty and security that terrorists and extremists seek to undermine.
I agree that the Government’s draft Communications Data Bill, as proposed in the last Parliament, was too widely drawn, provided too little protection for people’s privacy and gave too much power to the Home Secretary. My colleagues and I opposed this and urged the Government to reconsider their plans, and we pressed for there to be a review of the legal framework around surveillance law, which has recently been carried out by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC.
Given the importance and sensitivity of the issue it is vital that Parliament has a chance to consider the recommendations of David Anderson’s review and how best to strengthen the powers and safeguards around privacy and surveillance.
I can assure you, therefore, that I will carefully scrutinise any proposals the Government brings forward on this basis.
Rt Hon Hilary Benn
MP for Leeds Central