- Don't Spy on Us condemns the fast-tracking of new surveillance legislation
The decision by the government to reduce parliamentary scrutiny of the Investigatory Powers Bill has been condemned by civil liberties groups and technology experts. The draft Bill and explanatory notes, which run to 299 pages, will now only receive three weeks scrutiny in order to drive the legislation through parliament in the New Year.
This runs counter to previous statements by the Home Secretary Theresa May who in her statement to the House told MPs the Bill would “receive careful Parliamentary scrutiny”.
The last major piece of legislation to extend surveillance in the UK, the draft Communications Data Bill (CDB), was given 5 months of parliamentary scrutiny before parliamentarians decided the powers contained within the Bill were too sweeping and went too far. The draft Investigatory Powers Bill is vastly more comprehensive than the Communications Data Bill, yet it may be subjected to as few as three expert hearings before parliament breaks for Christmas.
Civil liberties groups are concerned about a number of powers in the draft IPB, including: the legalisation of the automated hacking of smartphones for people who may be innocent of any crime; a significant expansion of the ability of the government to intercept the content data of ordinary citizens who are not suspected of any crime and the logging of all web addresses visited by internet users giving GCHQ an picture of the browsing habits of the UK population at large.
One of the Peers on the Committee, Lord Strasburger, who sat on the joint committee on the draft Communications Data Bill and who will sit on the new joint select committee, has criticised the decision to curtail scrutiny of the Bill tweeting:
“Ridiculous. Committee scrutinising massive Investigatory Powers Bill given just 2 weeks to hear witnesses. Govt turning it into rubber stamp”
Don't Spy on Us members have responded to the announcement:
Thomas Hughes, Executive Director, Article 19 said:
"Rushing the passage of the Investigatory Powers Bill, in order to put snooping powers on a statutory footing, shows contempt for the British public, and for civil liberties. This Bill has huge implications on the security of our communications, and our freedom to express ourselves online. The UK government has a unique opportunity, as well as a duty, to ensure that this Bill is fit for purpose, clear, and transparent, and that people’s rights to free expression and privacy are not unduly restricted in the name of security. Without meaningful consultation and proper scrutiny, no law can have democratic legitimacy."
Renate Samson, Chief Executive, Big Brother Watch said:
“Repeatedly we have been told that the draft Investigatory Powers Bill will be subject to full scrutiny. The timetable given to the Joint Committee to report on the draft Bill by the 11th February gives little more than 7 weeks for them to consider almost 300 pages of proposals. Yet again, like RIPA and DRIPA before it, legislation which will impact on the security and privacy of the British public is being raced through Parliament at break neck speed.”
Eric King, Director, Don’t Spy On Us said:
“This timetable is inhospitable to informed consideration of extraordinary powers. It is a fraction of the time previous versions of the Snoopers Charter received, which had just a fraction of the issues to consider.
How are the committee to weigh the proportionality of bulk interception powers, the intrusiveness of bulk hacking powers, or scrutinise the evidence base for internet connection records in just a matter of weeks?
This is a once in a generation chance to create a world class legal framework. Rushing to hear evidence before Christmas, jeopardises the chance to get it right.”
Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said: “We all agree new legislation is needed because public discourse and parliamentary scrutiny have lagged behind spying practices in recent years. We welcomed pre-legislative scrutiny of this important and complex Bill. Why undermine this now? Nearly 300 pages in three weeks – is the Home Secretary serious?”
Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group said:
“We’ve been told there should be a ‘mature debate’ but when it comes down to it, the Government seems intent on pushing through one of the most important Bills of this parliament at any cost. This is short sighted and undemocratic.”
Sara Nelson, Communications Officer, Privacy International said:
“An utter lack of regard for the democratic process and rule of law has been shown by fast-tracking the draft Investigatory Powers Bill through the Parliamentary process. The draft Bill attempts to enshrine in law dramatically wide-ranging surveillance powers of British intelligence agencies and the police, while simultaneously requiring telecommunications and service providers to become complicit in violating British citizens' privacy en masse. Touted as “a gold standard”, the draft Bill sets a deeply concerning precedent by proposing bulk Government hacking, which will be leveraged by foreign governments to replicate similar legislation. The fast-tracking shows a shameful disregard for the need to have an informed debate on the Bill and for MPs to fully understand the implications of all its complex provisions, in order to have an opportunity to meaningfully assess the significant powers of surveillance proposed."