ORG parliamentary and policy update/2013-w50

< ORG parliamentary and policy update

This is ORG's Parliamentary Update for the week beginning 9/12/2013

If you are reading this online, you can also subscribe to the email version.

Official Meetings

Peter Bradwell spoke at the University of Reading's Institute of Policy Research about recent government surveillance policies and the Snowden revelations.

Jim Killock met with Verisign in Fribourgh, Switzerland.

NSA and GCHQ updates

See our full list of the Guardian and Snowden’s revelations.

UK secure file sharing system shuts down to prevent GCHQ from accessing encryption keys

PrivateSky, a file-sharing service that works inside outlook to provide a secure email service, chose to shut down a few months after launching in order to protect their users information from being accessed by GCHQ.

Around the same time Edward Snowden's email provider, Lavabit, shut down so that it wouldn't be forced by the NSA to weaken their encryption.

Home Secretary has refused request for MI5 chief to appear in front of MPs

Last week, the head of MI5, Andrew Parker, had confirmed that he would appear in front of a group of MPs following an invitation by the home affairs select committee. The committee heard evidence from the Guardian's chief editor last week to discuss the claims that the newspapers publications had caused harm to national security.

However, on Wednesday, the Home Secretary denied the request made by the MI5 chief on grounds that it would duplicate current oversight procedures managed by the Intelligence and Security Committee. The committee's chairman Keith Vaz responded "Ministers should take care not to dictate to parliamentary committees which witnesses can be called and for what reasons. Witnesses, no matter how senior, should not be afraid of answering questions from MPs." He also added that as a result of the Home Secretary's decline, she would be asked to appear for longer and give more detailed evidence when she appears in front of the committee next Monday.

NSA has been using Google's cookies to track targets

According to the NSA's presentation documents, obtained by Edward Snowden, the American and British intelligence agencies have been using Google's cookies to track their target's activity online.

The documents reveal the use of the REF cookie which is assigned to a user's browser every time they use a Google service. By having access to the cookie, the intelligence agencies monitoring the activity can identify their target's communications and send software to hack their computers.

Although Google and NSA officials have not commented directly on this, previous 'Snowden files' have indicated that cookie data can be obtained under an order issued by the American Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This would require companies such as Google, to be fully aware of the activity and to comply by handing over the information.

NSA and GCHQ have been spying on virtual games

Documents have shown that American and UK intelligence agencies have been looking into virtual worlds as a potential hide out spot for illegal activity including terrorist plots and gun trade deals.


A full list of open consultations and Parliamentary events can be found on our Events

Inquiry into counter-terrorism to hear from Secretary of State

An inquiry into counter-terrorism had been launched by the Home Affairs Committee in July 2013. On Monday 16 December they will hear evidence from the secretary of state, Theresa May.

Her session is expected to be longer and more detailed than previously scheduled following her refusal to allow MI5's chief to appear in front of the same committee.

She is scheduled to appear at 14:30. You can view all updated information on the inquiry on their website.

Government Bills

Early Day Motion on Digital Bill of Rights

Tim Farron MP has proposed an Early day motion (EDM) for a Digital Bill of Rights (Early Day Motion). An Early Day Motion is a way of introducing motions for debate in the House of Commons (although not all EDMs are debated).

The motion's current sponsors are, Julian Huppert MP, Peter Bottomley MP, Mark Durkan, Tom Watson MP and David Davis MP. It proposes to reform digital rights in a way "that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight". The motion also embraces the five principles outlined by the 'Reform Government Surveillance' group (more info further down in the update).

Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill report date announced

January 8 will be the date the House of Lords produces its report on the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. The bill includes amendments to the Terrorism Act 2000 and includes provisions that will allow border police at ports and airports to confiscate and duplicates electronic equipment.

Progress of the bill can be viewed on parliament's website.

Private Members Bills

Introduction of Surveillance of Telecommunications (Judicial Oversight) bill

David Heath MP suggested the introduction of the Surveillance of Telecommunications (Judicial Oversight) Bill during the Ten Minute Rule on Wednesday. The proposed bill seeks to amend the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) and the Intelligence Services Act to ensure there is sufficient judicial oversight when handling the material of British citizens collected through surveillance of their telecommunications. It also aims to make provisions to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

The bill is due to have its second reading in the House of Commons on Friday 24 February. The bill will be available online closer to the time of the second reading. All progress of the bill can be viewed on parliament's website

Debates and questions

Questions on government departments blocking websites

Valerie Vaz MP has asked UK government departments and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if they block specific websites or domains and whether they can release lists revealing the sites. Most departments responded that they operate filtering systems that block content if they fall into specific predetermined categories.

The most common sites which are blocked are those related to pornography, violence/hate/racism, social media sites, web-based email. The departments for International Development and Health declined to release lists or disclose detailed information on the grounds that it "may aid those with malicious intent."

The full responses can be found on our wiki page Filtering in UK government departments.

Question on assessment of illegal content on Tor hidden services

Alun Cairns MP has asked a question on the assessment of the use of Tor on the internet and the potential risks of illegal adult and child abuse content on found on the hidden services.

The minister for Policing and Social Justice, Damien Green, replied saying an assessment of the risks of child abuse content was published by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in a July 2013 report titled "Threat Assessment of Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse". The report found that the hidden internet remained a key threat and the number of UK offenders using the service to share illegal content was likely on the rise.

He also said the UK and US are joining up to create a new task force that will work with industry to eradicate child abuse online.

International Developments

Major tech companies band together to reform surveillance in US

Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Yahoo have come together to create the 'Reform Government Surveillance group'. The group aims to achieve just what their name suggests; to reform the government's activity and to be allowed to provide details whenever they are asked to hand over their user's information. Their reforms are summarised in their 5 principles:

  • Limiting Governments’ Authority to Collect Users’ Information
  • Oversight and Accountability
  • Transparency About Government Demands
  • Respecting the Free Flow of Information
  • Avoiding Conflicts Among Governments

More details on each principle is included on their website.

Norway to digitise all books

The Norwegian national gallery is set to digitise all books, which will take 20 to 30 years to complete. According to the Norwegian Legal Deposit Act, all published content in all media is required to be handed to the library meaning that all content will be digitised. The library has also taken the extra step of making agreements with publishers that will allow anyone with a Norwegian IP Address to access the material.

European Union

Data Retention found incompatible with fundamental rights charter

Following a request by the Irish High Court and Austrian Constitutional Court, the Εuropean Court of Justice's advocate general Cruz Villalon, has found that the Data Retention Directive

"constitutes a serious interference with the fundamental right of citizens to privacy, by laying down an obligation on the providers of telephone or electronic communications services to collect and retain traffic and location data for such communications".

The data collection directive, orders all communication service providers to archive information on their customers communications (telephone calls, e-mails etc.) for a time period of 6 to 24 months.

The advocate general said that the directive was incompatible with the Charter of Fundamental Rights for the following reasons:

  • It did not meet the charter's requirement that "any limitation on the exercise of a fundamental right must be provided for by law". (the fundamental right referenced here is the right to privacy)
  • The legislation does not provide sufficient guidelines for determining access to the data.
  • The time-frame for the storage of the information was not proportionate. While the current period is 6-24 months, he said there was no reason why member states would not decrease it to under a year.

You can view a more extensive analysis of the opinion by our policy director on our blog.

The opinion in full is available online and the ECJ's press release is also available in PDF form.

Edward Snowden to give evidence in European Parliament

Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German MEP (and the European Parliament's special rapporteur for the Data Protection Regulation) has announced that the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs(LIBE) wants to hear evidence from Edward Snowden in regard to their ongoing inquiry into PRISM and Tempora. In order to prevent Mr Snowden's location from being pin-pointed, he will provide them with a recorded video answering their questions.

According to the Guardian's reporting, the committee will most probably be most interested in learning the involvement of European information services in gathering data for the NSA and whether any serves or data networks in the EU were used in the process.

Timothy Kirkhope MEP has sent out a letter to all committee members protesting the move stating "a provocative act that would enable [Snowden] to further endanger security around Europe and beyond".

Law and Legal Cases

Amnesty International take legal action against UK intelligence agencies

The human rights group has issued a claim at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal against the British intelligence agencies. The group alleges that it is very likely their communications have been intercepted by GCHQ and have violated Article 8 (right to privacy) and Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the Human Rights Act.

This is now the third legal case to emerge against the British intelligence agencies, joining the lawsuits by Liberty and the Open Rights Group, Big Brother Watch and English PEN (Privacy not Prism).

ORG Media coverage

2013-12-10 - Telegraph blogs - Filtering Islamist and far Right websites is a lousy idea. Here's why
Author: Jamie Bartlett
Summary: ORG's Peter Bradwell mentioned
2013-12-12 - BBC - Porn users targeted by German law firm over copyright
Summary:Quotes from Peter Bradwell
2013-12-09 - Guardian Comment is Free - Surveillance debate: we're asking for an end to bulk data collection
Author: Jim Killock
Summary: Article by ORG Executive Director
2013-12-09 - BBCnews -
Summary: Jim Killock, commented on the five principles of the Reform Government Surveillance group.
2013-12-09 - SkyNews -
Summary: Jim Killock, commented on the five principles of the Reform Government Surveillance group.

See ORG Press Coverage for full details.

ORG contact details

Staff page