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Statement by United Nations Special Rapporteur on counter terrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson, concerning the Draft Investigative Powers Bill in the United Kingdom

GENEVA (4 November 2015) – “The UK Government's proposals for new statutory powers of intrusive surveillance, announced today, will ensure that bulk access to communications data is explicitly authorised by primary legislation that has been subjected to Parliamentary scrutiny.

Opinions differ on the necessity for such broad and sweeping powers. Putting those powers on a clear, explicit and formal statutory footing at least allows an informed public debate to take place, and provides an opportunity for MPs to challenge the extent to which the State can invade the privacy of their constituents.

It is entirely appropriate for national Parliaments to strike the necessary balance between the need to protect the collective online privacy rights of the entire digital community and the need to protect national security and prevent serious and organised crime. Democratic accountability for powers of mass surveillance can only be properly achieved through a transparent legislative process in which the extent of State surveillance powers are explicitly spelt out, with the limits and safeguards clearly defined, so that they can be subjected to critical public debate and Parliamentary scrutiny. To that extent, the proposals announced today are a significant step forward.

As regards targeted surveillance of identified individuals or organisations, the Special Rapporteur unequivocally endorses the assessment of David Anderson QC, the UK's Independent Reviewer of terrorism legislation, that prior authorisation by an independent and impartial judiciary is an essential safeguard. Empowering judges to weigh the balance between the competing interests at stake would bring the UK legislation into full compliance with the requirements of international law, and in particular Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Judicial review after the event is better than no judicial review at all, but it falls short of the requirement to place the power to issue a warrant into the hands of an independent judge, which is where it belongs.”


Read the report of the Special Rapporteur on the use of mass digital surveillance for counter-terrorism purposes and the implications of bulk access technology for the right to privacy: http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/69/397or http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/69/397

Ben Emmerson (United Kingdom) is the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. On 1 August 2011, he took up his functions on the mandate that was created in 2005 by the former United Nations Commission on Human, renewed by the UN Human Rights Council for a three year period in December 2007, in September 2010 and again in March 2013. As Special Rapporteur he is independent from any Government and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Terrorism/Pages/SRTerrorismIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Check the UN 2006 Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy:

For more information and media requests please contact Alessandro Marra (+41 22 928 9870 / amarra@ohchr.org) or write to srct@ohchr.org.

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