Andrew Watson

Licence to kill – will undercover criminal activity be lawful for all purposes?

The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill (‘the Bill’)[1] is making its way through Parliament and is currently at the Report Stage of the House of Lords.[2] If enacted, the Bill will provide the statutory framework for certain public authorities to a) authorise a Covert Human Intelligence Source (‘CHIS’) and b) authorise a CHIS to commit what would otherwise be criminal conduct. Owing to its potential scope, the Bill has come under fire from several political parties and campaign groups, which described the Bill as ‘a licence for government agencies to authorise torture and murder.’[3] The Government meanwhile has stated that a ‘CHIS will never be given unlimited authority to commit any and all crimes.’[4] So why is this happening now and what does this mean?

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Data protection – another COVID-19 casualty?

With more than one third of the planet’s population currently under some form of COVID-19 related restriction, the wider impact of ‘lockdown’ is becoming apparent. In the UK alone, the wider human cost of this necessary measure has been staggering: two million routine NHS operations cancelled; close to one million applications for universal credit benefit in the final two weeks of March; and calls to a national domestic abuse helpline 49% above average. The global economic picture is equally bleak. The IMF calculates the world economy will shrink by 7% in 2020, with trade levels sinking dramatically and national borrowing set to rise to levels not seen in peacetime. In the face of such dire prospects, for a relaxation of lockdown have grown increasingly vocal. But with a vaccine still 12-18 months off, governments around the world are weighing the apparent trade-off between easing restrictions and maintaining public health.

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