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UK needs a 'clean slate' for surveillance laws, says independent report

But claims bulk collection of online data is justified

The legal framework justifying mass surveillance by UK intelligence agencies needs to be scrapped, according to an independent report commissioned by the UK government. The 373-page document titled "A Question of Trust" defends the controversial bulk collection of online data, but argues that the power to authorize individual surveillance warrants should be transferred from politicians to judges. "The current law is fragmented, obscure, under constant challenge and variable in the protections that it affords the innocent," said David Anderson, the lead author of the report. "It is time for a clean slate."

The report criticizes the so-called Snoopers Charter

Moving the powering to authorize individual warrants would, in theory, make it more difficult for intelligence agencies to carry out intrusive surveillance, but there's no guarantee that politicians will heed the report's recommendations. It also suggests that plans to revive the so-called Snoopers Charter — a controversial bill requiring ISPs to maintain records of users' internet history and messaging metadata for up to a year — should be shelved until there is actual evidence the law is needed. This is likely to irk the current Conservative government, which has been eager to push forward new surveillance laws.

The report itself was commissioned by prime minister David Cameron last year as a direct response to the Edward Snowden revelations. Similar inquiries have been carried out in America, although while the US government has chosen to clamp down on mass surveillance, the UK's approach is to instead call for new safeguards. However, Anderson's central recommendation is that whatever new laws are introduced should be comprehensible to the public. "Obscure laws," said Anderson at a press conference, "corrode democracy itself."