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Snooper's Charter: What you need to know about the Investigatory Powers Bill

Scott Carey | June 8, 2016
What you need to know about the Investigatory Powers Bill, how it may affect your communications and the response so far.

Since December last year, the government's Investigatory Powers Bill has sparked debate over the balance between privacy concerns and national security in the post-Snowden era, with controversy around encryption, bulk data and hacking, to name just a few aspects.

Update 8 June 2016: The Investigatory Powers Bill was comfortably voted through its third and final reading in the House of Commons, with 444 MPs voting in favour to 69 against. It will now be sent to the House of Lords to be scrutinised by peers.

Theresa May

This comes after the Labour Party said that the bill had met the significant demands made by shadow home secretary Andy Burnham back in March.

Significant Demands

Update 16 March 2016: The shadow home secretary Andy Burnham laid out six areas of concern for the Investigatory Powers Bill back in March: "If the government fails to respond adequately to the concerns that I have raised," he said, then the Labour party will withdraw its support for the timetabling of this bill. The current timetable as laid out by the government is to pass the bill into law by the end of 2016.

Speaking at the second reading of the bill, Burnham said: "This bill isn't yet good enough. Simply to block this legislation would in my view be irresponsible, it would leave police and security services in limbo. We must give them the tools to do their job. The public interest lies in getting this right and in not sacrificing quality to meet the deadline."

The six concerns are as follows:

1. Privacy: "The Home Secretary said [privacy] was hardwired into the bill, but I see them as more cosmetic changes and haven't directly answered the concerns of the joint committee." Burnham asked that the bill takes a "presumption of privacy".

2. Specific powers: "Internet connection records (ICRs) have been described as the modern equivalent of an itemised phone bill, however the joint committee noted that this is not a helpful description." Burnham went on to explain that there should be a "higher hurdle" for use of this power limited to cases of serious criminal activity rather than any crime. He also asked that the terms "national security" and "economic wellbeing" are defined more explicitly.

3. Internet Connection Records: "Definitions of ICRs (Clause 54) remain vague and I see them becoming more intrusive as technology advances. A stricter definition of what can be included in an ICR should be included. The current confusion is clouding this bill and needs to be clarified."

4. Bulk Powers: "Routine gathering of large quantities of information from ordinary people does lead to privacy concerns and should be as targeted as possible [...] It is for the government still to convince the public that these powers are needed." Burnham asked specifically for an independent review to conclude in time for report and third reading on this issue.


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