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Friday, January 08, 2016

UN warns snoopers charter will hit freedom of expression

The Telegraph reports that the United Nations have warned that new UK Government snooping laws could result in “mass surveillance” and have a “chilling effect” in freedom of expression. They believe that a lack of appropriate oversight and transparency will “ultimately stifle fundamental freedoms”.

The paper says that the UN submission expressed concern that there was insufficient safeguards in the measures to protect journalistic sources or prevent inappropriate bulk collection of data or restrictions on encryption:

It read: “We are especially concerned that, if adopted in its present form, the draft bill could result in surveillance, including mass surveillance that lacks adequate independent oversight and transparency that will ultimately stifle fundamental freedoms and exert a chilling effect on the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association.”

The Bill also proposes a new offence to make it illegal for a communications company to notify a customer that a request has been made to it for their data.

Some companies, including Twitter, already have such policies in place but staff would face up to two years in jail for doing so if the new offence is approved.

But a joint submission from Twitter, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo said: “As a general rule, users should be informed when the Government seeks access to account data.

“It is important both in terms of transparency, as well as affording users the right to protect their own legal rights.”

It added: “While it may be appropriate to withhold or delay notice in exceptional cases, in those cases the burden should be on the Government to demonstrate that there is an overriding need to protect public safety or preserve the integrity of a criminal investigation."

The Government's final proposals will be published in a few months but I would hope they take on board the need for oversight and transparency when formulating them.

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