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Snoopers Charter: Joint Committee says Bill needs Major Edits

“Intrusion by the state must only be done reluctantly and on grounds of necessity”, says a Joint Committee looking into the proposed "Snoopers Charter".

According to a report by the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, the major change which would be brought about by the draft Bill is the creation of a new judicial oversight body, and the much greater involvement of judges in the authorisation of warrants allowing for intrusive activities.

The joint committee recommended that the Government publish a fuller justification for each of the bulk powers alongside the Bill, and further recommended that the examples of the value of the bulk powers provided should be assessed by an independent body, such as the Intelligence and Security Committee or the Interception of Communications Commissioner.

With regards to the debate on inserting ‘backdoors’ to enable interception of secure communication, the section on encryption, the joint committee agreed with the intention of the Government’s policy to seek access to protected communications and data when required by a warrant, while not requiring encryption keys to be compromised or backdoors installed on to systems. It called on a redraft of the Bill to make this clear.

“The Government still needs to make explicit on the face of the Bill that communication service providers offering end-to-end encrypted communication or other un-decryptable communication services will not be expected to provide decrypted copies of those communications if it is not practicable for them to do so,” it said. “We recommend that a draft Code of Practice should be published alongside the Bill for Parliament to consider.”

In regard to ‘equipment interference’ , the joint committee agreed that targeted equipment interference has the potential to be very intrusive. It acknowledged a “substantive case” for the targeting of equipment interference power and when subject to the appropriate authorisation process involving a Judicial Commissioner, “such activities should be conducted when necessary and proportionate”.

It also recommended that the Government should produce more specific definitions of key terms in relation to equipment interference, to ensure greater confidence in the proportionality of such activities. A revised Code of Practice should also be made available alongside the Bill.

Elsewhere, the joint committee agreed that the targeted interception power should be part of the Bill, subject to appropriate warrant authorisation arrangements.

In regards to “bulk powers”, the draft Bill provides for three types of bulk power for the security and intelligence agencies: bulk interception; bulk acquisition of communications data; and bulk equipment interference.

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said: “This is the third report that criticises the Investigatory Powers Bill, showing a troubling lack of clarity and evidence for the powers that are being demanded. Theresa May can no longer claim that this is a 'clear and comprehensible' piece of legislation.

“The Home Office needs to address the recommendations of all three reports and undertake a major re-write of the Bill before it is laid before Parliament."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: “This report shows just how much homework the Government has to do on this landmark legislation. Despite reams of evidence from the Home Office, the Committee finds the case for unprecedented powers to bulk hack, intercept and collect our private data has not been made. The Government needs to pause, take stock and redraft – to do anything else would show astonishing contempt for parliamentarians’ concerns and our national security.”

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