Investigatory Powers Bill Given Cautious Support By Human Rights Committee

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Journalist sources must be protected says committee of MPs, but admits bulk data collection can be justified

The Human Rights Committee formed of MPs and Peers has given its cautious welcome to the government’s draft Investigatory Powers Bill.

The report comes after Home Secretary Theresa May last week promised that the bill, otherwise known as the Snoopers Charter 2.0, would be subjected to an “independent review” that would examine the powers that allow for the bulk collection of data.

Human Rights

government parliament big ben public sector failure disaster storm clouds © CristinaMuraca ShutterstockIn its report on the bill, the Human Rights Committee gave a cautious backing to the bill, and even said the bill potentially advances the human rights of British citizens.

“We welcome the introduction of a Bill as representing a significant step forward in human rights terms towards the objective of providing a clear and transparent legal basis for the investigatory powers being exercised by the security and intelligence agencies and law enforcement authorities and, in many respects, enhanced safeguards,” said the committee.

“The bulk powers in the Bill are not inherently incompatible with the right to respect for private life, but are capable of being justified if they have a sufficiently clear legal basis, are shown to be necessary, and are proportionate.”

“We welcome the Government’s publication of a detailed operational case for the bulk powers in the Bill, providing more detail than ever before about why these powers are needed. This makes it possible for Parliament to scrutinise more carefully the Government’s case as to why such powers are necessary.”

“In our view, the Government’s operational case for the bulk powers should be assessed by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, who also has access to any supplementary sensitive information which the Government may wish to rely on in making the case for the necessity of the powers.”

The Home Office told the BBC that it welcomed the joint committee’s report.

“Protection for MP communications from unjustified interference is vital, as it is for confidential communications between lawyers and clients,” added committee chairman Labour’s Harriet Harman.

“And for journalists’ sources, the bill must provide tougher safeguards to ensure that the government cannot abuse its powers to undermine parliament’s ability to hold the government to account.”

Tough Passage

The draft Bill has faced fierce opposition from both privacy campaigners and also MPs. Indeed, such was the opposition, that last year the government dropped contentious aspects of the bill, when it no longer required communications service providers to store Internet traffic from companies abroad.

clouseau france spy surveillanceIt also implement “strong” warrant authorisation requirements for authorities wanting to gain access to a user’s detailed Internet browsing history.

Despite those concessions, the draft Bill faced ongoing criticism from leading tech firms (including Apple), ISPs, privacy campaigners, and indeed MPs, who have said the Bill is ‘draconian’ in nature and has been ‘rushed’ through Parliament.

The Bill requires Internet Service Providers to store the web browsing history of all their customers, for 12 months, for government spooks.

Earlier this year the Joint Select Committee of MPs said that the “Home Office has further work to do before Parliament can be confident that the scheme has been adequately thought through.”

That criticism came after the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee had earlier concluded that the draft bill was too vague in its provisions and would require detailed codes of practice in order to ensure it doesn’t prove a disastrous burden on the nation’s IT industry.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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