GCHQ Bude by Paul WalterOver on Open Democracy, our old friend Julian Huppert writes an excellent piece on his work as an MP looking at the scrutiny of UK state surveillance. He points to the 1984 (yes really) Telecommunications Act and the little debated clause 94 which gives the relevant Secretary of State virtually limitless powers to order telecoms companies to do anything without any parliamentary scrutiny.

Julian describes his trail of investigation to shed some light on what is and has been done under clause 94:

I kept pushing, and eventually the prime minister asked one of the other commissioners, the Interception of Communications commissioner to oversee section 94 directions. I was delighted, and eagerly awaited the report. Were these used once a year? Once a day? Some sort of reassurance would have been good.

The report came out in July. Two things stood out. The first is that even this commissioner, asked to investigate, couldn’t find out how many times these extreme powers had been used. To quote from the report:

“There are, however, some considerable challenges in this regard. The challenges stem from the fact that the directions are secret as allowed for by statute, can be given by any Secretary of State and do not automatically expire after a certain period. There does not appear to be a comprehensive central record of the directions that have been issued by the various Secretaries of State. My office is therefore not yet in a position to be able to say confidently that we have been notified of all directions.”

So he doesn’t know about all of them, and to make things worse, even those he has looked at he can’t tell us about at all, because they are still covered by the secrecy clause in section 94! Heller meets Orwell.

Julian concludes that this lack of oversight needs urgent fixing.

You can read the full article here.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is currently taking a break from his role as one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.