This afternoon, in response to David Anderson’s report into the operation and regulation of investigatory powers, Downing Street indicated that David Cameron is unlikely to agree to a proposal that ministers should be stripped of their powers to authorise surveillance warrants. The Prime Minister’s spokeswoman said that the authorities need to be able to “respond quickly and effectively to threats of national security or serious crime”.
In response, David Davis MP said:
“The Prime Minister has indicated that he will not accept the Anderson proposal to transfer the powers to authorise warrants for interception and serious metadata collection to a judicial authority. He says that this is because the government needs to be able to, “respond quickly and effectively to threats of national security or serious crime.”
It is difficult to understand how the Prime Minister imagines that a system that requires the Home Secretary of the day to approve an average of 10 warrants every working day – and presumably many more on some days – is either effective or expeditious. Clearance of interception warrants are very serious matters, which take careful and well informed decision making. Security cleared judges with many years of experience are more likely to be able to do this more quickly and effectively, and with greater impartiality, than any Home Secretary or other Secretary of State. I know of no other civilised state which allows ministers to decide on such serious invasions of individual privacy without recourse to the courts.
David Anderson describes the current law as “variable in the protections it affords the innocent”, and elsewhere as lacking in “statutory safeguards.” Interception warrants is one area where that is certainly true, and Parliament will have to come to its own conclusion as to whether a system that relies on politicians rather than judges to approve surveillance and intercept is acceptable in a modern democracy.”