The Government’s proposed “snooper’s charter” should be re-written, “undermines” privacy and hands sweeping powers to the authorities to fish for personal data, an independent report has warned.
Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee today publishes a detailed report into the draft Investigatory and Powers Bill - Home Secretary Theresa May’s key surveillance legislation drawn up in the aftermath of the Edward Snowden revelations - and calls for a swathe of alterations, notably to safeguard privacy from the mass monitoring of internet and phone records, and criticises a "lack of time and sufficient preparation".
And the committee’s chairman, the former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, suggested the draft legislation was at times so confusing even the authors were not sure what they were trying to achieve.
The committee of MPs took evidence, behind closed doors, from MI5 director general Andrew Parker, GCHQ director Robert Hannigan and Alex Younger, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, as well as Ms May.
“There were times when we said 'why was it drafted that way?' and 'is it really necessary?' and we didn’t get a very clear answer as to why it had been drafted in that way,” Mr Grieve told reporters.
The Intelligence and Security Committee's four big "concerns"
1. "Privacy considerations must form an integral part of the of the legislation, not merely an add-on."
The committee feels it is remiss not to include an "over-arching statement" to ensure "universal privacy protections" are applied throughout the Bill.
2. "The committee is not convinced as to the requirement for bulk equipment interference warrants."
The MPs say "targeted" warrants to combat hacking are sufficient - particularly since they are not limited to a single computer but "all equipment where there is a common link between multiple people, locations or organisations".
3. "The acquisition, retention and examination of any bulk personal dataset is sufficiently intrusive that it should require a specific warrant."
It recommends stripping the legislation of allowing spies to pick through personal data without getting ministerial approval.
4. "The approach to the examination of communications data is currently inconsistent and confusing."
The committee fears an MI5 officer could sidestep the most strict privacy protections since there are "different safeguards and authorisation procedures for obtaining and examining the same information".
The new surveillance powers handed to the police and security services - allowing them to access records tracking every UK citizen’s use of the internet without any judicial check - were designed to update laws for the 21st century.
The committee makes a series of recommendations, including scrapping a provision to trawl through “bulk” loads of personal data without ministerial approval.
It also warns the powers available to secret services are so wide-ranging a limited equipment search warrant could cover “a target as broad as an entire hostile foreign intelligence service”, so the draft has to ditch a warrant would give the authorities an even wider remit.
Against warning the Bill appears to be an “add-on” to existing legislation, the committee calls for an entirely new section to enshrine the protection of privacy.
Mr Griece said: “We had expected to find universal privacy protections applied consistently throughout, or at least an overarching statement at the forefront of the legislation.
“Instead, the draft Bill adopts a rather piecemeal approach, which lacks clarity and undermines the importance of the safeguards associated with these powers.”
Ms May has denied the Bill amounts to a "snooper's charter", arguing that claims the Government wants to unlawfully spy on people are "nonsense".