Investigatory Powers bill

The draft Investigatory Powers bill legislation passed the House of Commons earlier this month and is now having its second reading in the House of Lords keeping within the government’s tight timetable to legislate by the end of the year.

This controversial bill, dubbed the snoopers charter by critics, passed the House of Commons vote with 444 in favour and only 69 votes against after major changes were made to the bill. With the addition of a ‘double lock’ added into the bill ensuring decisions to issue a warrant could be scrutinised and an ‘over-arching privacy clause’ being placed at the centre of the bill it secured the backing of the majority of MPs in the vote.

Areas of Concern

There remain further areas of concern, including:

  • protections for sensitive professions (such as lawyers, MPs, trade unions and journalists)
  • limiting the use of NHS records
  • a higher threshold for accessing Internet Connection Records (ICR). It is argued that the web activity log that ISPs would be required to maintain on users should only accessed for investigations of “serious” crime, not any crime. ICRs are an example of bulk data that could be amassed on individuals without a crime being committed and the reason an independent review of bulk powers is underway.

Bulk Powers Review

The independent bulk powers review being led by QC David Anderson, will report in time for consideration by the Lords and address four bulk powers:

  • bulk interception
  • bulk acquisition
  • bulk equipment interference
  • bulk personal datasets

Critics have slammed bulk powers as disproportion, unnecessary, and counterproductive as an investigatory aid owing to their untargeted nature. Anderson said when providing details of the scope of his study:

“Conduct of the Review will involve the close scrutiny and interrogation of a volume of very highly classified material, and I will be asking whether the Government has established a robust operational case for the bulk powers it says it needs, and examining whether similar results could have been reached by other, less intrusive, means.”

MP Andy Burnham who asked for the independent review said:

“Routine gathering of large quantities of information from ordinary people does lead to privacy concerns and should be as targeted as possible […] It is for the government still to convince the public that these powers are needed.”

The Home Office stated The Investigatory Powers Bill aims to put on a firmer legal footing the collection by the security services of vast quantities of internet data in the UK and personal details held on databases. Home Secretary Theresa May says these so-called bulk powers have played a significant role in every major counter-terrorism investigation over the past decade. But civil liberties groups continue to raise concerns about privacy.