Police surveillance powers expanded in new ‘snoopers’ charter’
The revised Investigatory Powers Bill published on Tuesday defies criticisms from three separate parliamentary committees by expanding the most controversial powers, including the collection and storage of everyone’s web browsing history for 12 months and government powers to hack into citizens’ computers and smartphones.
Home Secretary Theresa May said the new legislation reflected the majority of the 122 recommendations made my MPs and peers by addressing issues concerning privacy protections, oversight arrangements and strengthened safeguards.
The Conservatives are touting the ‘snoopers’ charter’ as the first comprehensive legal framework for state surveillance in the world and hope to push it through Parliament this year.
May’s revised draft has been amended to reflect worries within the technology industry that surveillance laws would undermine or break encryption. The bill does not require companies to remove encryption of their own services if it is not technically feasible and it stipulates the projected costs will be taken into account.
The revised bill:
• Extends the use of remote computer hacking from the security services to major police forces and the National Crime Agency. This can only be used in cases involving missing persons or a “threat to life” including “damage to somebody’s mental health.”
• Gives police the power to access all web browsing records in specific crime investigations, an expansion on the original bill’s limitations to illegal websites and communications services.
• Introduces a ‘double lock’ for interception warrants, meaning that they must be approved by a minister and a judge.
• Introduces stronger protections for journalists and lawyers and six codes of practice setting out how the powers will be used.
Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen accused the government of ignoring advice from its own parliamentary committees and “every privacy group in the country.”
“It beggars belief that the government is blundering on with its snooping power-grab completely disregarding the concerns being raised from all sides, including no fewer than three of its own parliamentary committees, every privacy group in the country, the UN and tech firms like Apple.
“It’s like adding extra storeys to a burning building. Even the USA is rolling back its surveillance systems because of concerns over people’s right to privacy.”
Allen said the bill attempts to go too far, too fast without including basic protections such as independent judicial oversight.
“By rushing the supposed 'redraft' of this huge and complex bill through an impossibly short timetable, the government is showing contempt for parliament - every one of the three committees of parliamentarians who have considered their plans told them they needed serious work.
“This unseemly haste to push on without then giving the bill due time suggests a complete disregard for those consulted and the unanimous concerns raised.”
Renate Samson, chief executive of Big Brother Watch, replied to the publication of the Investigatory Powers Bill:
“The Government are squandering a golden opportunity to create a law fit for the digital age.
“By publishing hundreds of pages of clauses and codes of practice less than a month after the proposals were so roundly criticised by three parliamentary committees, the Home Office have shown a complete disregard for the process of parliamentary scrutiny.
“Surveillance is no longer a niche issue. In a connected world, where everyone is a digital citizen, these powers will impact us all.”
Human rights campaigners, privacy activists and cross-party MPs signed an open letter, published in the Telegraph on Tuesday, calling on the government to delay the Investigatory Powers Bill until next year.
The letter, signed by Tory MP and former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis, urges the government not to rush the legislation through Parliament to ensure MPs have enough time to properly scrutinize it.
Campaign groups Liberty, Big Brother Watch and Privacy International joined Amnesty International UK and Open Rights Group in signing the letter.
Other notable signatories include Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and Law Society president Jonathan Smithers.
“All three parliamentary reports on the draft Investigatory Powers Bill concluded that it does not meet the requirements of clarity, consistency and coherence. They call for new drafting, further safeguards, further evidence and further consultation,” the letter reads.
“Given these recommendations, the Government’s intention to pass the Investigatory Powers Bill this year is not in the nation’s interest. There is no need to be bound by this time frame. The powers, which expire this year, to give law enforcement access to data could be dealt with as a separate Bill. This would allow a comprehensive Investigatory Powers Act to follow next year after adequate consultation.
“Surveillance is a global concern, and this new law, if done right, could lead the world. It will affect security, freedom and commerce. We must give the bill the time it needs – not rush it through Parliament. We urge the Government to think again.”
In a statement accompanying the publication of the new draft bill, May said the bill will be made law before the end of the year.
“This is vital legislation and we are determined to get it right. The revised bill we introduced today reflects the majority of the committees’ recommendations – we have strengthened safeguards, enhanced privacy protections and bolstered oversight arrangements – and will now be examined by parliament before passing into law by the end of 2016.
“Terrorists and criminals are operating online and we need to ensure the police and security services can keep pace with the modern world and continue to protect the British public from the many serious threats we face,” she said.
Earlier drafts of the ‘snooper’s charter’ have been condemned by privacy activists and human rights campaigners for extending state powers too far.
Civil rights campaign group Liberty launched a campaign challenging the bill and arguing it violates basic freedoms expected in a democratic state.
“We expect the State to obtain a warrant before entering our homes, never mind searching them and taking away our belongings. Why should it be any different when it comes to our communications?
“As ever greater amounts of our lives are stored, shared and sent online, a detailed and intimate picture of you can be pieced together – revealing much more than any search through your bedside drawer. Don’t we all deserve some basic protections?”