Investigatory powers and privacy

February 9th, 2016

The Government’s draft Investigatory Powers Bill has been criticized by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, chaired by former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC MP, in a Report published today.  The Committee is “disappointed to note” that the Bill does not cover all the intelligence and security Agencies’ intrusive capabilities, and that the draft Bill fails to provide a clear and comprehensive legal framework to govern the use and oversight of investigatory powers.

The Committee regards as issues that are “cause for concern” that privacy protections are “inconsistent” and “need strengthening”; and that provisions in relation to three of the key Agency capabilities, equipment interference, bulk personal datasets and communications data are “too broad” and “lack sufficient clarity”.  The Committee expresses the concern that the Government has missed the opportunity to provide the clarity and assurance which is “badly needed”, given that “confusion” surrounding the present legislation has fuelled many of the allegations and suspicions concerning the Agencies’ investigatory powers over the past few years “clearly demonstrates the importance of transparency in this area”.

The Committee recommend that an additional part be included in the new legislation “to provide universal privacy protections”, not just that apply to sensitive professions.  Given the background to the draft Bill, and the public concern over the allegations made by Edward Snowden in 2013, the Committee finds it “surprising” that the protection of people’s privacy does not feature more prominently.  The Committee’s view is that “privacy protections should form the backbone of the draft legislation”, around which “exceptional” powers are then built.  Recent terrorist attacks cannot be used to ignore important underlying principles.

James Goudie QC

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