Right to privacy should form ‘backbone’ of mass surveillance laws – MPs

© Ints Kalnins
Tory Home Secretary Theresa May’s draft Investigatory Powers Bill fails to provide sufficient protections for the right to privacy, a senior parliamentary committee has warned in a highly critical report.

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which is tasked with overseeing the country’s spy agencies, concluded the Conservative government’s proposed anti-terror legislation offers a “piecemeal approach” to privacy protections and provides security agencies with too much unchecked power to conduct mass surveillance.

“Privacy protections should form the backbone of the draft legislation, around which the exceptional powers are then built,” the report reads.

The report urges the government to add a new section to the bill which would ensure that privacy considerations are not treated as an “add on” to the legislation, but rather form an “integral part” of the bill.

If passed, the bill would legitimize mass data collection and require telecommunications agencies to hand over information on their users to security services.

Theresa May, champion of the bill, says it will be essential in preventing terrorism and catching criminals.

Committee chairman Dominic Grieve MP said: “We had expected to find universal privacy protections applied consistently throughout … Instead, the draft bill adopts a rather piecemeal approach, which lacks clarity and undermines the importance of the safeguards associated with these powers. 

“Taken as a whole, the draft bill fails to deliver the clarity that is so badly needed in this area.

“Whilst recent terrorist attacks have shown the importance of the work the agencies do in protecting us, this cannot be used as an excuse to ignore such underlying principles or unnecessarily override them.”

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Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokeswoman said: “This is about making sure our police and our intelligence agencies can continue to keep people safe in Britain, whether that’s tackling organized crime [or] tackling terrorism. We need to make sure they have the powers they need for the digital age.”

The ISC report comes on the heels of a withering publication by the Science and Technology Select Committee last week, which slammed the bill for lacking clarity and engendering confusion.

The spate of criticism comes as a blow to the government’s hopes of smoothly passing the legislation into law this spring. The bill is the second incarnation of the Communications Data Bill, which was rejected by the last parliament.