In December 2016, the UK parliament passed the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA), the most draconian surveillance law in our history. DSOU campaigned to change this law since it was published in November 2015. After the IPA was passed, the DSOU coalition formally ended. However, its members continue to work together to challenge mass surveillance - including through legal challenges to this extreme law.
What is wrong with the IPA?
The IPA is a massive and complex piece of legislation. Here are the main areas of concern:
Bulk powers give the police and security agencies the ability to carry out population wide surveillance. Surveillance should be targeted towards those who are suspected of carrying out a crime.
Proper judicial authorisation
In most democracies, judges sign surveillance warrants; currently in the UK politicians sign them. Under the IPA, Judicial Commissioners check warrants that have been signed off by a Secretary of State but they would have little power to challenge them.
Internet Connection Records
Internet Service Providers can be compelled to keep ‘Internet Connection Records’ (ICRs). This could be a record of every website you visit and app you use. No other country in the world has undertaken such an approach to spying on their citizens.
The IPBill will give the police and security services the powers to hack into your phone and other devices. You don’t have to be suspected of a crime for this to happen. Hacking can carry massive security risks.
Journalists and lawyers
Some professions need special protection for their communications. The IP Bill does not include strong enough protections for journalist’s sources and legal communications. The police and security services have already abused the lack of protections - we cannot just take their word that this will not happen again. We need proper safeguards.
Unlimited access to our data
The IPA allows the security services to access any public or private database - from the passport office’s records to Tesco’s clubcard info. They can use a very broad warrant that lets them analyse this data for six months at a time - even though they have admitted that the vast majority of people whose data is being looked at are not suspected of a crime.
What is DSOU doing to challenge the IPA?
After the IPA was passed, the DSOU coalition are no longer campaigning in a formal coalition. However, its members are continuing to campaign against mass surveillance, and still work together to get the best results.
At the end of 2016, the Court of Justice of the European Union found that bulk data retention was not permissible. This was in relation to a case about the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) brought by Tom Watson MP and Liberty. Open Rights Group and Privacy International also intervened in the case. The judgment could mean that parts of the IP Bill are shown to be unlawful and will need to be changed.
DSOU members are also bringing their own legal actions. Open Rights Group, Big Brother Watch and English PEN are challenging government surveillance of data at the European Court of Human Rights.
Previous campaign actions
DSOU worked closely with MPs of all parties to explain why the Bill in its present form will be disastrous for civil liberties in the UK, making the case on behalf of DSOU members.
We sent a briefing to all MPs after the parliamentary committees that scrutinised the Bill made 127 recommendations. We explained how MPs and peers could enshrine the DSOU principles in the Bill and make it fit for purpose.
We have tried to get the House of Commons committee that scrutinised the Bill to introduce amendments that would improve the Bill. While hundreds of amendments were drafted by DSOU members and tabled by opposition MPs, the government didn’t support a single amendment at committee state, ignoring the many genuine concerns stakeholders have about the bill. While amendments were proposed by the Lib Dems and Greens in the House of Lords, they were not supported by Labour.
We worked with other stakeholders including small startups, internet industry giants, trade bodies, unions, professional associations and academia to share views and co-ordinate action. This has included calls to stop the Bill being rushed through Parliament and a letter signed by over 200 senior lawyers opposing bulk powers and highlighting the bill’s failure to comply with international standards. These broader coalitions will be vital in showing a broad church of actors have concerns about the Bill as it progresses through parliament.
Our “dictator endorsement” advertising campaign raised awareness of the IPBill with the public.