Deputy PM questions legal framework regulating use of surveillance data

Government is struggling to regain credibility after GCHQ webcam revelations

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has announced the creation of an expert panel that will review the use of internet data for surveillance purposes.

The initiative comes as the government tries to regain credibility after recent revelations that its intelligence agency GCHQ intercepted and stored millions of Yahoo webcam images of citizens who were not suspected of committing any crimes.

The panel, consisting of experts from intelligence, technology, civil liberties and law, will be chaired by Professor Michael Clarke, director general of the security and defence think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

"They will look at the principles that ought to govern our use of surveillance, examine current practice and make recommendations for reform, and, where necessary, new legislation," Clegg said in a speech at RUSI on security and privacy in the internet age.

"They will look at...the proportionate use of bulk data, but also the question of access to communications data held by private companies too."

However, Clegg said that his political party, the Liberal Democrats, will lead this debate because its coalition partner, the Conservatives, does not agree with his approach.

"I hope that as it progresses, the review that RUSI will lead will be able to garner support from across the political spectrum," he said.

Clegg believes that the government should be more transparent and open where it can be "without jeopardising operations".

"Secrecy is essential for the agencies to conduct their operations, but if blanket secrecy becomes an unthinking default response then public trust will suffer," he said.

To this end, he proposed the creation of a new single web portal, called Surveillance.gov.uk, to act as a single source of information about the work of the agencies. This would be where the agencies would post new reports, legal rulings and statistics.

He added: "More significantly, we would follow the example of the private sector and publish annual transparency reports with a breakdown of the requests made under RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) for access to comms data held by internet service providers and telecoms firms.

"For the first time, people will be able to see which agencies request access to data, on how many individuals and for what purposes."

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