Public Dialogue

Discussion Prompt: Is productive engagement on intelligence law, policy and oversight possible between the secret and civilian world and what can be gained from it? Reflections on best practice, lessons learned, and plans for the future.

The issue of intelligence in public debate has arrived at a noteworthy conundrum: on the one hand, we are experiencing a normalisation of intelligence politics the Snowden revelations and the subsequent response by parliaments, governments, and agencies have had their share in that on the other hand, many countries are still treating intelligence politics as a special, if not unique, realm of policy, one that necessitates secrecy by default. This prerogative leads to the exclusion of large swaths of institutionalised public life (from civil society to business, and from academia to tech industry) from the political and legislative process around intelligence. Weighing the need for national security and civil liberties should not be left to one sector alone. Rather than preclude the input of different stakeholders, we posit that sound intelligence policy and practice requires a plurality of cross-disciplinary inputs and partnerships. This discussion question seeks to investigate the practical possibility and the potential of reaching across the ‘aisle of secrecy’ by hearing from experts who have done that. 

Sitting on the steel fence: my dialogue with the intelligence world

Digital evidence expert and public policy analyst Peter Sommer looks back at nearly three decades working as an intermediary between the public and the secret world.

Professor Peter Sommer combines academic and public policy work with commercial cyber security consultancy, with a strong focus on legal issues. His first degree is in law, from Oxford University. He is currently a part-time Professor of Digital Evidence at Birmingham City University and a Visiting Professor at de Montfort University. Until 2011 he was a Visiting Professor in the Department of Management at the London School of Economics. He has consulted for OECD, UN, European Commission, UK Cabinet Office Scientific Advisory Panel on Emergency Response, UK National Audit Office, Audit Commission, and the Home Office. He has carried out external audits of the Internet Watch Foundation hotline. The OECD work, written with Ian Brown, addressed the cyber aspects of Future Global Threats. He has further given evidence to the Home Affairs and Science & Technology Select Committees, the Joint Committee on the Communications Data Bill, and to the Intelligence and Security Committee. He was a Specialist Advisor to the old Trade and Industry Select Committee and to the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill (now an Act). During its existence Peter was the joint lead assessor for the digital speciality at the UK Home Office-sponsored Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners and has advised the UK Forensic Science Regulator and the Home Office on communications data. He has acted as an expert in many important criminal and civil court proceedings in the UK and international courts usually where digital evidence has been an issue including Official Secrets, terrorism, state corruption, assassination, global hacking, DDoS attacks, murder, corporate fraud, privacy, defamation, breach of contract, professional regulatory proceedings, harassment, allegations against the UK military in Iraq, “revenge porn” on social media and child sexual abuse. Particular themes have been situations where technologies need to be interpreted in legal terms and assessments of quantum and extent of damage. Peter is the author, pseudonymously, of The Hacker's Handbook, DataTheft and The Industrial Espionage Handbook, and under his own name, Digital Evidence, Digital Investigations and E-Disclosure (IAAC) now in its 4th edition and the Digital Evidence Handbook. He is a Fellow of the British Computer Society and also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

A healthy thing for democracy: how my office engages with civil society

The former Inspector-General of Intelligence & Security of New Zealand on her experience with setting up a civil society focus group.