Conservative party MP David Davis has said that the powers of unwarranted intelligence, surveillance and interception granted in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) should be revoked.
Speaking at the 'Scrambling for Safety' conference at the London School of Economics (LSE) yesterday, Davis slammed the government's plans to allow intelligence services to monitor all internet activity in real time, claiming that most ministers “do not know one end of a machine from another”.
“The ignorance is not just technical ignorance,” said Davis, who lost to David Cameron in the 2005 Conservative leadership contest. “These are also people who are dealing with terrorism and they've never seen a terrorist; they've never dealt with a terrorist event; they are entirely in the hands of their officials, who can tell them anything and they have to effectively believe it.”
Also speaking at the event, Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert said that any legislation which comes out will be a draft and open to scrutiny – echoing the promise of deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. According to Davis, however, putting the proposals into draft will not solve anything.
Under RIPA, intelligence agents can already tap into online communications data where there are reasonable grounds for doing so. The new legislation will simply mean that they could demand this data in real time, rather than asking for historic data.
“We need to go in completely the opposite direction,” said Davis. “We need actually to take back the powers that were given in RIPA. We need to take back all the unwarranted oversight powers. Leave none in place.”
He described the commissioner for interceptions, the commissioner for the intelligence service and the chief surveillance commissioner as the “three blind mice”, alluding to the laxity of their reports and their failure to issue robust sanctions against improper or unauthorised snooping.
“They are useless,” he said. “Look at the number of intrusions they've found – if you think that's all there have been in the last couple of decades then you're quite gullible.”
Davis warned that the government's proposals will “turn us into a nation of suspects,” apart from genuine cyber-criminals, who are far more tech-savvy than the intelligence services and will evade detection by using alternative services.
Huppert added that the government needs to start talking to a wider range of people about the technical issues involved in real-time surveillance – not just the intelligence services. The Liberal Democrats plan to address this by holding a technical briefing with representatives from Google, Facebook and ISPs such as TalkTalk in the coming weeks.
“Most people making policy don't get it. They don't understand what they're trying to do, and so they can be manipulated by people who do,” he said. “I and the Liberal Democrats will be making sure that we stop the ever-encroaching drive to an authoritarian state.”
At the same event, tech experts including Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory, said that the government's proposal to separate communications data from content is impractical.