THE BLOG
11/02/2016 11:52 GMT | Updated 11/02/2017 05:12 GMT

The Investigatory Powers Bill: Huge Legislation, But There Remain Fundamental Issues to Be Resolved

Twelve weeks of really intensive work concluded with today's publication of our Joint Committee's report on the draft Investigatory Powers Bill.

This is the third and most comprehensive look at the proposed legislation by different Parliamentary Committees - but all three make clear that there are very significant problems with the bill as it stands and fundamental issues to be resolved before it is brought back to Parliament.

It's a huge piece of legislation, but several issues deserve highlighting.

Internet Connection Records

As the committee makes clear, proposed "ICRs" are not just the internet equivalent of itemised phone bills. They are far more intrusive - information about websites we use could reveal a hell of a lot of very personal information about any one of us including political and religious views, sexuality, and places we like to visit.

The committee pointed out that there are still "significant concerns" about how practical ICRs are to create and store securely, and even what exactly they are.

There's no doubt that ensuring ICRs are retained is something that is desirable for law enforcement agencies and would be useful for them - in some respects. But weighing that up against the various concerns highlighted in evidence, then the case for going down this path has yet to be made.

Bulk powers

One hurdle that most MPs face when scrutinising legislation like this is that for operational reasons, we only have limited information about how security and intelligence agencies use their capabilities. This is particularly true when it comes to the "bulk" use of powers - such as the ability to intercept and hack ("equipment interference") on a large scale. Indeed, it's hard even to know just how bulky "bulk" is.

Our committee says the government has more work to do to justify these powers, with the use that is made of them to be assessed by an independent body.

Oversight

The bill takes us a big step forward by setting up a regime of judicial oversight of warrants to use various powers. That said, I was in a minority who voted for making this a proper "double-lock" so that judges were essentially co-decision makers, rather than simply reviewing decisions by politicians.

We did agree other strong recommendations to strengthen protections and bolster the independence of the judges involved, which I hope will be listened to.

Oversight is not just about looking at warrants brought by agencies and law enforcement. It is also about "having a look under the bonnet" to see what is really going on and that powers are not being abused. We've emphasised that it is vital for the commission to be able to undertake investigations of its own choosing, and to have the technical and financial resources to do that.

Only in this way can we rebuild the trust and confidence that the agencies lost with the Snowden revelations - and, indeed, avoid a Snowden II.

And the rest

Our report is 169 pages long, so it's hard to do justice to all the key issues. Our recommendations would explicitly protect the integrity of encrypted communications services in the bill - vital for individual privacy and for industry. We want to see improved protections for communications with lawyers, journalists and MPs - essential for democracy and the rule of law. We've flagged up concerns about bulk personal datasets, and the need for stronger protection on sharing information to and from international partners.

Each of these issues - and others I haven't even mentioned - are crucial in themselves. 12 weeks of scrutiny by the committee was intense. Now Parliament as a whole needs months of rigorous debate to make sure we strike the right balance: between providing the powers our agencies and law enforcement need to protect us; and the privacy we rightly demand.