Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper will today call for the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to be replaced, according to a report in the Guardian. The call is a response to the Snowden revelations and changing technology, and will focus on improving supervision. Cooper will not criticise the actions of GCHQ or the Security Service, but will not only attack government ministers but also the Intelligence, Interception and Surveillance Commissioners, and the Commons’ Select Committee on the Intelligence and Security.
Cooper will have harsh words for the three Commissioners, and their failure to engage with a suitable public response to Snowden. She will suggest that perhaps they should be replaced with a single Inspector for covert activities, as in Australia. She will also say that the Chair of the Commons intelligence committee should always be from the opposition party to avoid the appearance that it is an extension of government; this is the model used with the Public Accounts Committee. The current chair, Conservative MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind, is a former Foreign Secretary, and he has been criticised for quickly responding to the Snowden revelations by leaping to the defence of the intelligence community, rather than dispassionately enquiring into whether the disclosure indicate a need for reform.
Cooper will also raise a fundamental question in the governance of communications surveillance: whether changing technology has made obsolete the once-clear distinction between communications data and content.
As Labour’s shadow Home Secretary, Cooper’s call for a complete overhaul of RIPA will carry considerable weight of expectation, even if her speech raises more questions than specific proposals.