The Anderson Report

30 July 2015

In his second feature on privacy and security, Director Steve Southern explains why he is willing to comprise when it comes to the balance


I've now read David Anderson's report, which was briefly in the press and media, but in the normal way of things other stories very rapidly bumped it from the headlines.

 I think we can be sure though that this seminal report will not be forgotten. Anyone who wants to can download and/or read the full report here

Even in the short space of time since the publication of David Anderson's report I've found myself contemplating the issues of privacy and security on many occasions. For example, when I attended a concert at the Leeds arena recently, alongside 13,500 other Fleetwood Mac fans, I couldn't help thinking about security, or rather the lack of it.

Open to all comers upon presentation of a valid ticket, I noticed that each ticket had a bar code which was scanned, and this obviously relates to the identity of the person who purchased the ticket. But we all know that identities can be easily faked, purchased or stolen, so not much of an obstacle for your average suicide bomber. (Purely by accident, as the ticket was a gift, I was pleased to see that my seat was very close to a ground floor exit).

Other events that have occurred include the murders in Tunisia in June, on the very beach where two weeks earlier during the half-term holiday my daughter, her husband and my grandchildren walked every day.

Then earlier this month, the tenth anniversary of 7/7 and the many services to remember the 52 people who were murdered in central London.

A friend of mine works for the British Medical Association and was in their headquarters on Russell Square when the bomb was detonated on the bus in nearby Tavistock Square. He's not a doctor, but was one of the first on the scene, and I've no doubt that he still has very vivid memories of what he witnessed.

The recent Budget announcements have got me thinking about current and future levels of investment in the police, security and intelligence services, all of whom are engaged in combating the terrorist threat. David Anderson makes no attempt to quantify the levels of investment required to implement his 124 recommendations, as it was not part of his remit to do so, but somewhere in the Treasury numbers will be crunching and difficult choices will need to be made against the ongoing backdrop of further cutbacks in public spending.

It's not hard to find other individuals and groups who are clearly interested in, and concerned about, privacy. In April 2015 the Liberal Democrats proposed a Digital Bill of Rights in a move that "follows years of attempts by Conservatives and Labour Governments to erode the privacy of citizens, businesses, and journalists as digital technology has evolved." To say their influence is now somewhat diminished is an understatement, so it's difficult to see any way they are likely to make headway on this in the near future. Several months earlier, in September 2014, Sir Tim Berners-Lee called for an internet bill of rights to ensure greater privacy. More recently, speaking before the recent Web We Want Festival in London, Sir Tim said Britain had lost the moral leadership on privacy and surveillance and urged Briton's to fight government plans to extend surveillance powers. 

In the case of the former, and the Liberal Democrats call for a Digital Bill of Rights, I tend to be somewhat sceptical about motives, as we can never be sure what truly lies behind any such initiative from a political party. When it comes to Sir Tim however, my inclination is to take rather more notice of what he has to say. Unlike politicians, he has no vested interest. Not only that, but he understands the complexity of internet technology and communications, and the rapid pace of development. He more than almost anyone else knows how difficult it is to subvert the sophisticated cryptographic controls and other methods that are now routinely used by criminals and terrorists alike, so I'm slightly bemused that he is apparently such a vociferous advocate of privacy over and above the security and safety of the citizen. 

But what of the Anderson report and it's implications? A summary of the report’s main recommendations can be found here, alongside indications that the government may already have reservations about transferring powers to authorise surveillance warrants from ministers to judges.

For me, it's clear that the main aims of the Anderson recommendations are to achieve a balance between privacy and security, provide greater transparency for citizens, and improve impartiality by increasing the role of the judiciary and reducing political involvement in actual surveillance operations. These are laudable aims, but my worry is that, if implemented, the work of the police, security and intelligence services will be made more difficult. For example, the recommendation for more detailed supporting information and evidence required for the approval of surveillance warrants - viewed I'm sure by those in the privacy camp as essential safeguards - may slow down or undermine surveillance operations, which by their very nature are often short notice and/or fast moving.

One thing is certain. Whatever the extent of changes and the implementation of David Anderson's recommendations, there will always be those on both sides of the argument who will say that the correct balance has not been achieved. In the end what matters is the view of the majority, although Sir Tim says it is extremely difficult to get people engaged in a debate about the issues of privacy, so we may never be able to assess a majority view. Speaking personally, the Anderson report changes nothing for me. As I've already made clear, I'm prepared to sacrifice a balance if it means I can go on holiday and not be constantly on the look out for people hiding assault rifles inside beach umbrellas.

Finally, I have to consider to what extent any future changes might have an impact on our clients. Unfortunately, I don't have a crystal ball but my instinct is that the majority of the Anderson recommendations will be implemented. Few if any of them will have a direct bearing on the ability or desire of our clients to do business in the UK. Many of our clients have global operations and will frankly not be deterred by the prospect of government surveillance. They will simply view it as part of the mix. So long as they act lawfully and meet regulatory and/or shareholder obligations, business will continue. 


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