The government has published a code of practice for security and intelligence agencies that wish to conduct communications surveillance.
Published by the Home Office, the Equipment Interference Draft Code of Practice provides guidance for the intelligence services that wish to use section five of the Intelligence Services Act 1994 to “interfere with electronic equipment” such as computers, smartphones, networks and servers.
Thanks to the leaks by US government surveillance whistle-blower Edward Snowden, it’s long been out in the open that GCHQ uses its powers to engage in spying on citizens both in the UK and abroad. The Home Office documents represent one of only a handful of times the UK government has attempted to be more transparent over its mass surveillance activities.
The documents have been published as part of a public consultation on the draft interception of communications code of practice, which runs through until 20 March 2015.
According to the government, “the purpose of the codes is to make publicly available more information about the robust safeguards that apply to the police and the security and intelligence agencies in their use of investigatory powers”.
Writing in a ministerial foreword to the consultation document, James Brokenshire MP, Minister of State for Immigration and Security, said the government needs to be transparent about the work it does.
“There are limits on what can be said in public about this work. But it is imperative that the government is as open as it can be about these capabilities and how they are used,” he wrote.
He continued: “The public and Parliament needs to have confidence that there is a robust statutory framework for the use of such intrusive investigative powers and that there is a strong system of safeguards in place.”
Brokenshire also echoed Home Secretary Theresa May’s warnings when making the case for more government surveillance powers.
“Terrorists, paedophiles and serious criminals are increasingly sophisticated in their use of technology and they are going further in their efforts to evade detection. It is vital that the police and their partners in the security and intelligence agencies are able to stop them,” wrote Brokenshire.
“In order to continue to keep us safe, the security and intelligence agencies need the full range of investigatory tools at their disposal. But the public needs to know that these powers are used appropriately and are subject to stringent oversight,” he concluded.