The Home Office Only Listens When We Don't Want Them To

News & Analysis
The Home Office Only Listens When We Don't Want Them To

“It’s like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife”. Alanis Morissette thought that was ironic. I never thought so. I suggest a far more ironic lyric to you Alanis - "It’s like the Home Office not listening during a consultation about how it wants to listen to everything you do’. OK, it might not be the catchiest lyric, but you can’t say it’s not ironic.

Today the latest version of the Investigatory Powers Bill was published.  The Government might want some credit for being transparent and publishing the document with tracked changes so we can see how it has changed since the Bill was published in early March. But more so than transparency, it indicates their brazen approach to consultation. Why? Because the Bill has barely changed: a spelling and grammar tidy up e.g. 'intellegences services’ changed to ‘intelligence services’;  A few provisions made even more draconian than they already were e.g. "If it is not reasonably practicable for an instrument making a major modification to be signed by the Secretary of State, the instrument may be signed by a senior official designated by the Secretary of State for that purpose”. This new provision means that a major modification to a bulk warrant that may lead to greater intrusion into thousands or even millions of people’s personal information could now be signed off - not by a Secretary of State, not a judge, not even a Minister - but by a civil servant. That's about all that has changed.

Despite Privacy International and our partners in the Don’t Spy on Us Coalition, academics and experts from across sectors, technology companies ranging the very smallest ISPs to the giants such as Facebook and Microsoft, pouring a massive amount of energy into trying to improve the Bill, the Home Office just not listening.

Check out this Tumblr page with a screenshot of each and every change. It has not been a time consuming exercise for us to compile this.

It’s worth remembering that this latest raft of changes (we needed an ocean liner but got a raft instead) follows on from the cosmetic tweaks that were made between the publication of the Draft Bill in November 2015 and the publication of the Bill proper in March this year. Three reports, from the Intelligence and Security Committee, the Science and Technology Committee, and the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill made 123 recommendations - and no one except the Home Office thinks they did anything other than pay lip service to the drastic improvements that these reports called for. One of the most telling changes made following that earlier consultation was based on the Intelligence and Security Committee’s recommendation that privacy should form the “backbone” of the Bill, and that a new chapter on privacy should be introduced. The Home Office’s response? They changed the title of the existing first chapter from ‘General Protections’ to ‘General Privacy Protections’. Job done as far as the Home Office was concerned.

There is still so much to fight for. The Bill will shortly move on to the Report Stage in Parliament, before it’s Third Reading and then its passage through the House of Lords. We need to redouble our efforts to remind Parliamentarians across the political spectrum that the Investigatory Powers Bill is a grand folly. As it currently stands, it will erode freedoms, not protect them. It will harm our security by making us at greater risk from cybercrime, not increase our safety from terrorists. It will further empower the State by giving them unprecedented power over each of us, rather than empowering us through upholding our privacy.

With our partners in the Don’t Spy on Us Coalition, we have organised a social media ‘Thunderclap’ this Tuesday. You can sign up here using your Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr accounts. Join us in making a noise - we need the Home Office to listen.