Politicians and researchers raise questions over secret Scottish surveillance system 


Issue of spying will be raised with the Scottish cabinet secretary for justice

PRO-CIVIL LIBERTIES politicians have raised concerns over the revelations that policing body the Scottish Recording Centre (SRC) had access to mass surveillance from UK secret services. 

After the nature of the SRC was revealed in files leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, researchers have also proposed developing an independent approach to communications security in Scotland.

Scottish Green Party justice spokesperson and ex-police officer John Finnie MSP said: “Liberty refer to the security agencies ‘drowning in data’ and cite the example of missed information in advance of the tragic death of the soldier Lee Rigby. Whilst the public will readily understand the need to monitor threats to public safety, it's apparent that this blanket surveillance lacks any proportionality, is highly inefficient and has little, if indeed any, legal basis.

“Only this week we have seen Conservative and Labour MPs walk hand in hand through the lobby at Westminster to pass the Investigatory Powers Bill, in the face of strong, evidenced and principled opposition from Greens, SNP, Plaid and the SDLP.

“Ironically we also learn that at a leaked report from 2012 says that GCHQ doesn't need those new powers anyway and that tells you all you need to know about how out of hand this industrial intrusion on citizens' privacy has become.

The SRC controversy raises questions over how an independent Scotland would manage the balance between security service powers and the right of the general population to privacy. 

“I also learn from those reports that a Scotland-based surveillance unit called the Scottish Recording Centre was part of this intrusive mix and that parliamentarians may have been misled about how this mass data has been handled. Everything points to this UK wide surveillance machine as being both out of control and entirely incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. I intend raising this matter in Parliament with the cabinet secretary for justice."

Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael, who opposed the Snoopers Charter, added: “Days after the Tories and the Labour party backed a snoopers charter that will see our online activity recorded for a year, we learn that a secret Scottish facility could have been trawling though our information with no real oversight. 

"Our intelligence services do vital work in keeping us safe but that does not mean they should have carte blanche to invade our privacy. We need to know who within the UK and Scottish Governments was aware of this work and what safeguards – if any – were in place to ensure Scottish workers were not complicit in breaking privacy laws.”

The SNP, who criticised the ‘bulk collection’ of data, led opposition to the bill – but declined to comment.

The SRC controversy raises questions over how an independent Scotland would manage the balance between security service powers and the right of the general population to privacy. 

Alistair Davidson, a SNP activist who authored the report ‘Scottish sovereignty in an age of mass surveillance’, advocates a greater use of open source software and encrypted communication to ensure transparency and privacy. 

“The Scottish Government would be well-advised to oppose mass surveillance,” Davidson said. 

“Quite apart from the ethical and legal issues, bulk recording of internet traffic by the UK secret services would pose a serious threat to the sovereignty of an independent Scotland.

“If the security services watch all internet traffic that enters and leaves the British Isles, then state and commercial secrets would both be under threat.”

Loz Kaye, co-founder of Open Intelligence Think Tank, added: “The new surveillance law currently going through Westminster makes it clear that Scottish ministers have powers to issue interception. Yet there has been no proper opportunity for the Scottish people or parliament to have say over how these powers will work.

“The Scottish Government would be well-advised to oppose mass surveillance” Alistair Davidson 

“It's clear any new oversight body and powers must have input from Holyrood, and clarity on any specific Scottish security and intelligence agency.”

High UK spending on the security services means that an independent Scotland would likely make substantial financial savings on security services. The three Commonwealth members of the ‘Five Eyes’ network – Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – all spend far less per capita than the UK on spy activity.

The Scottish Labour and Conservative Parties also did not respond to requests for comment.

Picture courtesy of Edward Snowden online