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Investigatory Powers Bill lands in Parliament amid howls over breadth of spying powers

Son of Snooper's Charter is just as bad as feared

IPB The Investigatory Powers Bill (IPB) has been formally laid before the UK Parliament, renewing criticisms that the government is trying to force it through without adequate democratic scrutiny.

While the government claimed (PDF) that the bill responds to various Parliamentary committees' “call for greater clarity” much of this will take place through codes of practice published alongside the bill, and not in the IPB itself.

The 258-page amended bill (PDF) has been laid before Parliament after less than 120 days of consultation on its first draft copy of the bill.

Three Parliamentary committees provided pre-legislative scrutiny of the bill, receiving thousands of pages of evidence over a number of weeks before rushing out their own recommendations – all of which referred to the damaging haste with which the Home Office wants the IPB to become law. The committee's recommendations prompted some cosmetic changes to the bill's text.

A line-by-line Parliamentary debate on the bill's contents is scheduled for 14 March. It will then proceed to committee stage for scrutiny on 22 March, with a vote being expected before the end of April.

Committee warnings

On its surface, the new bill suggests the Home Office recognised the Intelligence and Security Committee's (ISC's) warnings that “substantive amendments” were necessary. The ISC said: “Taken as a whole, the draft bill fails to deliver the clarity that is so badly needed in this area” and advised that a section be added for privacy protections.

As The Register reported at the time, this was not a call for the Home Office to pay greater attention to privacy rights. Rather, it was a criticism of the IPB's drafters, who had previously scattered the privacy protections throughout the draft bill.

The Home Office responded to the ISC by adding the word “privacy” to the title of Part 1 of the bill.

The IPB's timing provoked criticism that Home Secretary Theresa May was trying to rush the bill through the Commons while MPs were distracted by the UK's looming EU referendum.

The Science and Technology Committee warned of the bill's potential to damage Britain's technology industries, and advised that tax payers' pick up the £2bn or so tab that it could cost ISPs to comply with their obligation to retain ICRs.

The largest report, from the Joint Committee established specifically to pick apart the bill, restated the criticisms of those which had preceded it. The committee suggested that the IPB's shoddy drafting was a product of the Home Secretary's haste to introduce the law.

Definition, definition, definition

Writing about the widely confusing “internet connection records” (ICRs) the bill refers to, May claimed the government has delivered “a single definition of an ICR.” This single definition, however, has not changed what was given before - rather, the crucial details are now in a draft code of practice. This followed pressure from the National Crime Agency to expand the reasons they could use to access people's ICRs.

Where the draft bill originally noted was:

In this section “internet connection record” means data which –

(a) may be used to identify a telecommunications service to which a communication is transmitted through a telecommunication system for the purpose of obtaining access to, or running, a computer file or computer program, and
(b) is generated or processed by a telecommunications operator in the process of supplying the telecommunications service to the sender of the communication (whether or not a person)

The final bill states:

In this Act “internet connection record” means data which –

(a) may be used to identify, or assist in identifying, a telecommunications service to which a communication is transmitted through a telecommunication system for the purpose of obtaining access to, or running, a computer file or computer program, and
(b) comprises generated or processed by a telecommunications operator in the process of supplying the telecommunications service to the sender of the communication (whether or not a person)

In a written ministerial statement accompanying the bill, Theresa May declared: “The new legislation needs to be in force by 31 December 2016 in order to ensure that powers which are essential to counter the threat from criminals and terrorists do not lapse.”

A statement from the Don't Spy On Us campaign group urged the government to split the bill to meet both the need for properly scrutiny, and the need to renew existing powers which are set to expire at the end of the year, thanks to the sunset clause in DRIPA section 8(3).

The executive director of the Open Rights Group, Jim Killock, commented: “The Home Office is treating the British public with contempt if it thinks it's acceptable to rush a bill of this magnitude through Parliament. MPs and peers need sufficient time to consider the fundamental threats to our privacy and security posed by the Investigatory Powers bill. Many have their minds elsewhere, dealing with important decisions about Europe.”

“On first reading, the revised bill barely pays lip service to the concerns raised by the committees that scrutinised the draft bill.” added Killock. “If passed, it would mean that the UK has one of the most draconian surveillance laws of any democracy with mass surveillance powers to monitor every citizen's browsing history.”

Speaking to The Register, Lib Dem peer Lord Strasburger - who was a member of the Joint Committee providing scrutiny of the Bill - said: "This Bill looks as if it's been cobbled together in great haste. That is because it has - it's been rushed out just a couple of weeks after more than 100 criticisms of the draft Bill were made by three parliamentary committees."

Strasburger noted how, as an example, "the Home Office was urged to add a new Part on privacy to the Bill and to make privacy the backbone of the Bill. Rather than write that new section, the government simply changed the name of the first chapter by adding one word to the title - privacy - and leaving the text virtually unchanged."

"That proves that they are not taking Parliament seriously," said Strasburger. "Law makers will need to spend a lot of time knocking this Bill into shape. It's too important to allow through in the poor state it is in." ®

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