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Time For a Reboot: UK’s Investigatory Powers Bill Slammed Again

Web Foundation · February 11, 2016

Britain’s draft Investigatory Powers Bill is back under the spotlight today, after Parliament’s Joint Select Committee released their report on the Bill. The Committee raised concerns over both principles and substance, and suggested 86 changes. Lord Paul Strasburger, a member of the committee, went so far as to say “The Bill needs more than mere tweaking, it needs to be fundamentally rethought and rebuilt.”  

The Select Committee is the third parliamentary body to slam the draft Bill. The Science and Technology Committee has warned that the Bill as currently written will damage the UK technology sector, while the Intelligence and Security Committee criticised the Bill for being too vague and “suffering from a lack of sufficient time and preparation”.

Anne Jellema, Chief Executive Officer of the World Wide Web Foundation said:

“The government had promised to deliver ‘world-leading’ legislation that protected civil liberties and enhanced security. But after three critical reports from Parliament and a rushed consultation process, it’s now crystal clear that government needs to tear up the draft bill and start over.

“All three Committee reports have made some sensible recommendations. Yet the elephant in the room remains the government’s desire to introduce mass surveillance by default. Does the UK really want the dubious honour of introducing powers deemed too intrusive by all other major democracies, joining the likes of China and Russia in collecting everyone’s browsing habits? This would trample on long-cherished British freedoms and would hurt British businesses, not to mention that we have little evidence that it would make us safer. It’s time for the Home Office to drop this misguided idea entirely.”

 

The key issues

Here is a look at our initial reactions to key issues covered in today’s report:

 

Bulk surveillance

While the committee has broadly agreed that the Bill needs major revisions, it has gone against the sentiment and recommendations of two other reviews, one from the Intelligence and Security Committee and Science and Technology Committee by endorsing bulk surveillance in the form of collecting ICRs. The distinction between ICRs and browsing history is so fine as to be meaningless.

Collecting every website that everyone visits by default will have a chilling effect on privacy and free speech. In doing this, the UK joins the likes of China and Russia in establishing a state spying machine. There’s also no evidence at all that this will make it easier to catch criminals and terrorists.

 

Encryption

We welcome the committee’s call to ensure that end-to-end encryption is explicitly protected. Encryption makes us all safer.

 

Equipment interference

We welcomed the committee’s request to more tightly define equipment interference, but were disappointed that no provision for greater transparency was recommended. Legitimising the government’s ability to interfere in communications infrastructure without strict safeguards sets a dangerous precedent. It undermines our ability to criticise foreign governments for using their country’s businesses to do the same. What is to stop China from asking their technology giants  to spy on UK companies for trade secrets?

 

Judicial review

We welcome the move to further define “urgent” in when the Secretary of State can sign a warrant without judicial approval, and the recommendation that a judge must review this within 24 hours.

Additionally we welcome recommendation 32, which urges a judicial commissioner also review warrants for targeted interception, to close current loopholes in the bill as currently worded that would allow authorities to modify an interception (for example by adding people or locations) warrant without judicial oversight.

 

Transparency

The annual report must provide detailed data, including on the number of suspects detained or plots disrupted so as to allow meaningful analysis.

 

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