Authorities in the UK and Germany are cracking down on intelligence activities as public opinion swings against mass surveillance, coupled with heavy criticism from human rights groups and setbacks at the European Court of Human Rights.
Following a wave of scandals, spy agencies around the world are coming under pressure to be more open about their actions. It follows the repealing of powers held by US services, with leaks like the Snowden revelations paving the way for an unprecedented reduction in the power of security services.
Now, authorities in the UK and Germany are cracking down on intelligence activities as public opinion swings against mass surveillance, coupled with heavy criticism from human rights groups and setbacks at the European Court of Human Rights.
In Germany, Angela Merkel’s coalition of lawmakers have made plans to create a post for a “permanent expert” to oversee the actions of Germany’s security services.
These developments come as a direct reaction to revelations that spies from Germany’s BND had been relaying information gathered on various German companies and European allies to the American National Security Agency (NSA), while there were also accusations that Chancellor Merkel’s office did nothing to prevent the practice.
Extra Pressure on Intel Agencies
The additional scrutiny on German spies follows developments in the US, with the country’s recently implemented Freedom Act repealing many of the powers previously held by the NSA under the old Patriot Act.
From June, the NSA hasn’t been allowed to engage in the mass collection of Americans’ phone records, while a public interest advocate has been appointed to oversee the implementation of surveillance programs.
The UK’s intelligence agencies have also been pulled up for their actions as a result of the Snowden leaks, with communications agency GCHQ found guilty in February of taking part in an unlawful information-sharing agreement with the NSA that went on for seven years.
This was followed up by another ruling in Britain’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) in June, which found the agency guilty of illegally spying on two human rights groups.
In reaction to the decision, Eric King, deputy director of civil rights group Privacy International, said that more needed to be done to control the actions of security services.
“Clearly our spy agencies have lost their way. For too long they’ve been trusted with too much power, and too few rules for them to protect against abuse. How many more problems with GCHQ’s secret procedures have to be revealed for them to be Brought Under Control? ”
Snowden: The Legacy of the Leaks
The increase in scrutiny and reduction in powers for security agencies has in large been triggered by the revelations of former NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
These revelations, along with other leaks from organizations like WikiLeaks, which have uncovered a series of illegal practices undertaken by intelligence agencies in many countries, such as the US, UK and Germany.
This has led to an unprecedented shift in the nature of intelligence legislation in some countries, with security services witnessing a reduction in their powers for the first time in the post 9/11 era, defined by the West’s commitment to the war on terror.
However despite claims that agencies are working in the interest of national security, critics say the overbearing surveillance practices contradict and question many civil liberties.
Despite the restrictions in the United States and Germany, the Britain appears to be heading in the opposite direction when it comes to surveillance policy, with the UK’s Conservative government revealing plans to give spy agencies MI5, MI6 and GCHQ more powers to deal with threats to national security
The government has outlined its highly controversial plan to introduce the Investigatory Powers Bill, dubbed the ‘Snooper’s Charter,’ which would give agencies more powers and force Internet companies to log and track users’ web history for up to year to allow for police and security service access.
It’s thought the plan would also force companies to collect and hold data on mobile phone applications like WhatsApp and Snapchat.
The proposals have attracted widespread public and political criticism, with many pointing out that developments in the US, and now Germany, make it even more difficult for the UK to justify bulking up surveillance powers.