The Home Office receives another failing grade on surveillance proposals: come back to us when your thoughts are clear

The Home Office receives another failing grade on surveillance proposals: come back to us when your thoughts are clear

Today’s report by the Joint Committee on the Investigatory Powers Bill is the third committee report that concludes that the Home Office has failed to provide a coherent surveillance framework.

The Joint Committee on the Investigatory Powers Bill today published a 198 page report following a short consultation period between November and January. Their key findings are that:

    - the definitions in the bill need much work, including a meaningful and comprehensible definition of 'data' itself

    - hacking powers will be used in a way that could cause unacceptable collateral intrusion

    - thematic warrants could possibly apply to 'a very large number of people'

    - modifications to warrants could allow their dramatic expansion without oversight

    - clearer definitions of national security and economic well-being are required

    - clarification is needed that this bill will not restrict end-to-end encrpytion of systems

Nonetheless, the Joint Committee are happy with the Government's proposals to: hack systems; require companies to assist in hacking activities;  collect of bulk personal data sets; use bulk powers across the board, and the collection and retention of 'internet connect records' i.e. details of what websites, apps, and web-based services we are using. We are disappointed by their conclusions in these areas, especially as their report did document the voluminous amounts of concerns on these matters from those who gave evidence. We are also disappointed that the Joint Committee recommended that many significant details should be included in separate 'Codes of Practice'. We are also disappointed that the Committee did not recommended strengthening the judicial authorisation process.

On bulk powers, the Joint Committee recognises that in assessing national security considerations, the Intelligence and Security Committee is better placed, given their role in oversight of the intelligence services. And indeed, just earlier this week, the Intelligence and Security Committee  expressed serious concerns about these bulk powers, even though the intelligence services, Theresa May and Home Officials had the opportunity to persuade them of the need for these powers in closed evidence sessions.

Three Parliamentary committees and a chorus of tech companies and civil liberties groups have now expressed strong concern about the proposals. The IP Bill now needs to be radically overhauled and the Home Office must take the time to get this important piece of legislation right. 

Two other Parliamentary Committee reports published in the last two weeks, by the Science and Technology Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) have been damning of the Investigatory Powers Bill. 

The Science and Technology Committee have said that the cost and technical complexity of implementing the Bill would undermine UK tech sector. 

The ISC earlier this week gave a very damning verdict, saying "thus far the Government has missed the opportunity to provide the clarity and assurance which is badly needed”.  They demanded a rewrite of the bill with privacy at the centre of the bill. That Committee also noted that the Government has not made an operational case for the ‘bulk’ powers. Bulk powers refer to the capability to collect and retain information about large numbers of individuals, often without any warrant.

Gus Hosein, Executive Director of Privacy International, said:

"The Home Secretary called this draft bill a ‘Gold Standard’ but no one in this country but her seems to believe it. Across the board, civil liberties groups, journalists, lawyers, tech companies including the likes of Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo and Microsoft and now three Parliamentary committees have expressed deep concerns about the Investigatory Powers Bill. 

The Intelligence and Security Committee, which reported earlier this week said the report had been rushed, was unclear, lacked transparency and had insufficient privacy safeguards. And the Science and Technology Committee concluded that the Bill could undermine the UK tech sector. While the Joint Committee report has taken a softer line than both reports, taken together they provide a very clear roadmap for the Home Office to fix a badly broken Bill.

We urge the Home Office to take time, step back and address the wide range of concerns that have been presented to them since the draft Bill’s publication in November. Go back to the drawing board and bring back a true Gold Standard for democracies across the world."



Intelligence and Security Committee Press Release on the report of the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill

Science and Technology Committee, 1 February 2016,  "Cost of Investigatory Powers Bill could undermine UK Tech sector"