The UK needs to take a 'clean slate' approach to surveillance laws and start again, according to a government-backed report by David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.
The Question of Trust report (PDF) said that the current situation is a mess of fragmented laws and rules and that Parliament needs to start all over again. The recommendations are not binding, but the document carries some weight and has won support.
Anderson said that citizens should be given a better understanding of powers that appear to be intrusive, and that the mechanisms must be transparent.
"Modern communications networks can be used by the unscrupulous for purposes ranging from cyber attacks, terrorism and espionage, to fraud, kidnap and child sexual exploitation," he said.
"A successful response to these threats depends on entrusting public bodies with the powers they need to identify and follow susects in a borderless online world.
"But trust requires verification. Each intrusive power must be shown to be necessary, clearly spelled out in law, limited in accordance with international human rights standards and subject to demanding and visible safeguards."
Intrusive powers, such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) are showing their age and need radical revision, according to Anderson.
Surveillance should continue, Anderson explained, but with more oversight and clarity. "The current law is fragmented, obscure, under constant challenge and variable in the protections that it affords the innocent," he said.
"It is time for a clean slate. This report aims to help parliament achieve a world-class framework for the regulation of these strong and vital powers."
Foreign secretary Philip Hammond said in March that the report would be one of the final parts of the political privacy puzzle at a time when government surveillance is under intense scrutiny.
The report has earned support for its advice and information designed to inform the Investigatory Powers Bill, which the UK government is set on rushing into power.
"David Anderson QC has delivered a carefully researched report that provides a positive and constructive basis for the development of the Investigatory Powers Bill," said Antony Walker, deputy chief executive of techUK.
"Anderson's findings support our position that we need new legislation to strengthen the legal framework and ensure proper democratic oversight.
"This is a unique opportunity to get the legal framework right for UK citizens, tech companies and UK national security."
Anderson calls for new surveillance powers to be halted pending rigorous assessment and compelling evidence of need: https://t.co/AozJq3U1zg— PrivacyInternational (@privacyint) June 11, 2015
Rights groups have welcomed the report, saying that it represents a strike against the worst excesses of government legislation.
"This is the final nail in the coffin for RIPA," said Eric King, deputy director at Privacy International.
"The message cannot be clearer: wholesale reform of Britain's surveillance laws is needed. Not some tweaks, or a change here and there, but full root and branch reform.
"Our system of governance and oversight hasn't worked. We now need to start again, and debate and discuss every aspect of the vast and incredibly intrusive powers we provide the police and intelligence agencies."
Jim Killock, executive director at the Open Rights Group, said: "The report confirms that our surveillance laws are unclear, vague and improperly supervised. It's truly shocking that this democratic failure has only come to light because of the actions of a whistleblower [Edward Snowden].
"The government response to the Snowden revelations has been to amend and pass more laws to legitimise the activities of the security services. Instead of further legislation, the government needs to act on Anderson's call for the fundamental reform of our surveillance law."
The secretary general of the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA), Nicholas Lansman, also backed the report's findings.
“Today’s report is an important contribution and it is now clear that communications data legislation needs to be urgently updated," he said.
"Regaining public trust in the Internet and ensuring the digital economy can thrive should play a big role in the coming debate and ISPA looks forward to making sure members’ voices are heard.”
However, whether the government heeds the advice remains to be seen, with the new Conserative government hoping to push through new surveillance laws as part of the so-called Snoopers Charter.
93 per cent of UK homes and businesses can now use 24Mbps+ broadband
1.9 trillion yen offer by WD-led consortium falls short of Toshiba's demands - but may be accepted anyway
Banking Trojan that 'wreaked havoc' in Europe and the US in 2014 may have absorbed NSA exploits to spread via network security flaws, not just phishing
Leaks in the run-up to Samsung Galaxy Note 8 launch pretty much gave it all away