‘Privacy improved’ in surveillance bill

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The government says new surveillance powers are needed to fight crime and terror

Revised plans setting out powers for UK police and security agencies to monitor people’s communications and internet usage are being published later.

A Home Office source said the Investigatory Powers Bill would include greater privacy safeguards, after criticism of last year’s initial plans.

Three parliamentary committees raised concerns about clarity and privacy.

Ministers say new powers are needed to fight terrorism, but internet firms have questioned their practicality.

Civil liberties campaigners have also raised concerns about the balance between people’s privacy and security.

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Ministers want the new bill – bringing surveillance tactics used in the digital age under one legal umbrella – to become law by the end of the year, citing the urgent demands of national security and crime prevention.

Since the draft bill was published in November, they say a number of changes have been made:

  • Service providers will be required to store the internet connection records – what services a device connects to – for everyone in the UK for a year.
  • A requirement to go further – to store everyone’s full browsing history and the content of communications in order to help police pursue investigative leads – has been dropped.
  • A warrant from the home secretary will be required if officers want to mount more intrusive spying operations – including accessing the content of emails – but a new Investigatory Powers Commission would be able to veto such requests.
  • Technology firms will only be required to decrypt material at the behest of law enforcement where it is “practicable”.
  • Security services, as well as the police, will have to obtain a senior judge’s permission before accessing communications data to identify a journalist’s source.
  • UK agencies are explicitly prevented from asking foreign intelligence bodies to undertake surveillance activity on their behalf unless they have a warrant approved by a secretary of state and judicial commissioner.


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Danny Shaw, BBC home affairs correspondent

The Investigatory Powers Bill is intended to address gaps in intelligence gathering and access to communications data which the government believes are putting “lives at risk”.

The draft bill was the subject of intense scrutiny by three parliamentary committees. They were concerned the proposals lacked clarity and could be too intrusive.

The result, according to the Home Office, is a bill that now contains tighter technical definitions; codes of practice setting out how the powers will be used, and stronger controls to protect freedom of speech and privacy.

Ministers want the measures on the statute book by the end of the year – a timetable which is unlikely to satisfy critics who say the plans are being rushed through.

Home Secretary Theresa May said last November that the draft package of measures was a “significant departure” from previous plans, dubbed the “snoopers’ charter” by critics and blocked by the Lib Dems in the coalition government.

But the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill and Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee both said more work needed to be done.

The latter recommended the new bill should include “an entirely new part dedicated to overarching privacy protections”.

MPs on the Science and Technology Committee, meanwhile, warned that the bill’s requirements were confusing, and said firms feared a rise in hacking as a result of the measures.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo all expressed concerns over the phrasing of proposals on encryption, bulk collection of data and openness.


The Home Office said the revised bill was “world-leading legislation… subject to a robust regulatory regime”.

But Lawrence Jones, from web hosting company UK Fast, dismissed it as “unenforceable”.

“The bill is doomed from the outset… It’s almost as if Theresa May doesn’t understand how the internet works,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“Criminals are not going to follow a set of rules. Criminals are going to hide behind proxy servers around the world where there’s no government legislation.”

James Blessing, chairman of the Internet Service Providers’ Association, said the demands on companies were achievable with “a big budget and plenty of time”, but there were concerns around the security of the information stored.

He said the material – for example, around banking and shopping habits – would become “a really rich vein” for criminals.

And on the reassurances that internet firms would only have to decrypt material for law enforcement where it is practicable, he added: “What is practicable and what is sensible are two very different things.”

Media captionTheresa May made the case to Parliament for new surveillance powers in November

The revised bill is expected to reflect the majority of the recommendations made by three committees.

Where recommendations have not been accepted, the government says they would compromise the capabilities of law enforcement and intelligence services.

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham has said Labour supports the overall aim of the bill but has urged the government to achieve “the right balance for our security and privacy”.

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