Bill faces changes as predecessor is brought before EU court
THE Investigatory Powers Bill (IP Bill) is facing proposed amendments that could curb powers allowing police forces to seize data and monitor individuals without a warrant.
The IP Bill is designed to give the government increased surveillance and data acquisition powers, which the Conservative Government claims will assist it in fighting terror threats. However, critics say the legislation is a threat to individual privacy and civil liberties.
Previously, the Bill allowed for the seizing of data under the suspicion of any crime, without the need for a warrant.
“We recognise that the security services and the police require adequate powers to fight terrorism and serious crime, however such powers must always be proportionate, and in accordance with law” – Joanna Cherry QC, SNP MP
The SNP, which has proposed the amendments, abstained from the vote which passed the IP Bill last month on the grounds of agreement with the need for new surveillance powers, but said it would work on making amendments to the legislation. Labour also abstained from the vote, with only the Liberal Democrats voting against.
Joanna Cherry QC MP, SNP spokesperson for justice and home affairs, said: “The SNP is taking the lead in ensuring the Investigatory Powers Bill is not rushed through without careful consideration – we recognise that the security services and the police require adequate powers to fight terrorism and serious crime, however such powers must always be proportionate, and in accordance with law.”
Other amendments to the Bill would ensure that surveillance can only be carried out on the orders of judges. The proposed changes also expand the category of information which is only accessible by warrant, and mean that urgent warrants would only be issued where there is an immediate chance of serious injury or death.
The proposed amendments also remove provisions which allowed for modification of warrants without judicial approval or oversight.
Nik Williams, policy advisor at freedom of expression organisation Scottish PEN, fears that the IP Bill has moved too quickly through the House of Commons to be properly amended.
He said: “The overly restrictive timetable laid out for the Investigatory Powers Bill has significantly limited both parliamentary scrutiny and engagement from civil society to ensure the Bill protects free expression and privacy and enables the safety and security of the UK to be protected. As it currently stands, the Bill does neither of these.”
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) will meet today to decide if the Bill’s predecessor, the 2014 Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA), breached fundamental human rights.
In July 2015, the European High Court ruled that key parts of DRIPA violated human rights because it did not include rules to ensure data was only accessible when helping prevent and detect serious offences. The government appealed the decision at the time, bringing the case to the CJEU.
If DRIPA is found to violate fundamental human rights, it could have a potential effect on the journey of the IP Bill to law. The IP Bill forces internet providers to store all sites visited by a user, which can then be accessed by law enforcement, regardless of whether users have committed a crime.
“The overly restrictive timetable laid out for the Investigatory Powers Bill has significantly limited both parliamentary scrutiny and engagement from civil society.” – Nik Williams, Scottish PEN
James Welch, legal director for Liberty, a civil liberties and human rights organisation, said: “Liberty strongly supports the use of surveillance in fighting crime, but only if it’s targeted. The government’s approach of sweeping up and storing everybody’s data with no effective safeguards is excessive.
“This case could stop the fatally flawed Investigatory Powers Bill in its tracks and mark a sea change in the fight for an effective, targeted system of surveillance that keeps us safe and protects our rights.”
The IP Bill has yet to become law, but is on track to – it is currently at the committee stage, where it will then move on to a third reading at a later date.
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Picture courtesy of Quattro Vageena