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Parliament passes IP Bill as critics pledge further legal battle

Neil Merrett Published 18 November 2016

Surveillance powers that formalise government policy on encryption and data access are expected to pass into law in coming weeks, as tech industry calls for further clarity from Home Office


The Investigatory Powers (IP) Bill has now been passed through both Houses of Parliament, with numerous provisions outlining state powers around data security, access and surveillance expected to become law over the next few weeks, pending Royal Assent.

According to The Independent , the House of Lords has now cleared the bill that will set out the government’s future ability to intercept and monitor communications and information, as well as implications for public sector and private bodies holding data.

The proposed legislation aims to formalise several existing pieces of legislation around encryption and collecting bulk personal communications data into a single law, attracting significant controversy and criticism from rights groups, as well as MPs and peers. 

Concerns remain over a lack of clarity on how authorities will make use of powers to monitor and police digital correspondence, especially in light of high profile whistleblowers like Edward Snowden going to the press to criticise the powers authorities have reportedly been using to access personal data for years.

The Liberal Democrats, for instance, have argued that the government has failed to explain its need to keep a record of all web histories for 12 months along with concerns about a number of other measures that it claims are "indiscriminate, disproportionate and highly intrusive".

However, proponents of the bill maintained that it was needed to outline much needed requirements around ensuring how information can be accessed by organisations such as law enforcement agencies in an era of rapid technological advances.

Responding to the approval of the bill in Parliament, industry association techUK said that despite a number of changes being implemented to the proposed legislation since it was first drafted last year, key issues remained around its implementation.

“The Bill has been strengthened in some key areas of importance to the tech sector during this parliamentary process. Judicial Commissioners will now have equal responsibility for authorising warrants, third party data retention is explicitly excluded on the face of the Bill and an overarching duty to safeguard privacy has been placed on Government and agencies,” said Talal Rajab, techUK’s cyber and national security programme head.

Rajab noted that the government had also committed to make use of international agreements as a primary means of requesting data from oversees operators or service providers.

“However, there are a number of important questions that must be addressed regarding implementation of the Bill. Government needs to be more consistent on how it views the priorities of national security and cyber security alongside user privacy when implementing the Bill, set out clearly the functions and duties of the Investigatory Powers Commission and outline next steps on creating an international legal framework,” he added.

The association said it would therefore be working with the government and Home Office to set out how the legislation would be implemented.

Outside of the technology sector, civil rights groups such as Liberty have committed to pursuing legal action against the bill being passed into law.

“Under the guise of counter-terrorism, and in an environment of devastatingly poor political opposition, the Government has now won the ability to spy on the entire population - a ‘world-leading’ precedent,” said Liberty’s technology policy officer, Silkie Carlo.

Carlo argued that despite parliament’s approval, the act was largely incompatible with human rights laws, a position it would be pursuing in the courts.

“A narrative of fear, suspicion and hostility is threatening our fundamental freedoms, and all human rights defenders must strive to embed civil liberties at the heart of our society if we are to defend human rights at the core of our laws and constitution,” she said.

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