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March 8, 2016
The Bill sets out the powers available to the police, security and intelligence services to gather and access communications and communications data in the digital age, subject to what the Home office calls, “strict safeguards and world-leading oversight arrangements”.
The need for a new law was accepted by three Parliamentary committees that scrutinised the Government’s proposals published in draft in November last year, and subsequently revised to reflect the majority of the committees’ recommendations.
The Bill, scheduled to pass into law before the end of 2016, addresses themes that were the focus of the Joint Committee, Intelligence and Security Committee and Science and Technology Committee reports.
The Home Office says that the Bill:
- is clearer, with tighter technical definitions and strict codes of practice setting out exactly how the powers in the Bill will be used and why they are needed;
- includes stronger privacy safeguards, bolstering protections for lawyers and requiring the security services, as well as the police, to obtain a senior judge’s permission before accessing communications data to identify a journalist’s source; and
- explicitly bans agencies from asking foreign intelligence agencies to undertake activity on their behalf unless they have a warrant approved by a Secretary of State and Judicial Commissioner.
In addition, and in direct response to the Joint Committee, the Government has also published an operational case for bulk powers as set out by the security and intelligence agencies giving unprecedented detail on why they need their existing powers and how they are used.
The Home Office says that the Bill commits to working with industry to implement the retention of internet connection records (ICRs). The revised proposals accept the Joint Committee’s recommendation that ICRs can be accessed to allow the pursuit of investigative leads.
The Bill also clarifies the Government’s position on encryption, making it clear that companies can only be asked to remove encryption that they themselves have applied, and only where it is practicable for them to do so. The Government is not asking companies to weaken their security by undermining encryption.
New safeguards for interception and equipment interference warrants are introduced, reducing the period of time within which urgent warrants must be reviewed by a Judicial Commissioner from five to three days.
The Bill also strengthens the office and powers of the new Investigatory Powers Commissioner, giving the Lord Chief Justice a role in his or her appointment and allowing for the Commissioner to inform people who have suffered as a result of the inappropriate use of powers.
The “double-lock” authorisation model endorsed by the Joint Committee, involving judges in the approval of warrants for the most intrusive powers, remains on the face of the Bill and, the Home Office says, has been strengthened further in respect of urgent warrants.
The Government is working to the Bill receiving Royal Assent by the end of 2016. To read the Home Office’s press release in full and for a link to the Bill, click here.