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Draft Investigatory Powers Bill: What you need to know

Scott Carey | Nov. 12, 2015
The 299-page draft bill will be debated and consulted on before a bill is formally introduced to Parliament in the New Year.

Since publication last week, the government's Draft 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.

The headlines

Clause 71 has led the news agenda so far. This requires web and phone companies to store records of websites visited by every citizen for 12 months for access by police, security services and other public bodies.

In practice this would take the form of an itemised list of each citizen's browsing history. This would not be a list of the specific web pages but the main domain (so but not the specific stories you read) so a basic online footprint can be drawn up. One concern here will be around the security of this data, especially in the current climate of TalkTalk customer hacks and data dumps.

The bill seeks to make the power for security services to acquire bulk collections of communications data explicitly legal. For example this could mean a bulk data set such as NHS health records.

Security services will also be legally empowered to bug computers and phones upon approval of a warrant. Companies will be legally obliged to assist these operations and bypass encryption where possible (more on this below).

Oversight for these operations will change, with a new "double-lock" where any intercept warrants will need ministerial authorisation before being judged by a panel of judges, who will be given power of veto. This panel will be overseen by a single senior judge, the newly created Investigatory Powers Commissioner.

For some context, figures from the Home Office, as published by The Guardian, show there were 517,236 authorisations in 2014 of requests for communications data from the police and other public bodies and a further 2,765 interception warrants authorised by ministers.

The politics

There has generally been cross-party approval of the bill as first proposed, with Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham stating that it was "neither a snooper's charter nor a plan for mass surveillance."

Conservative MP David Davis has been one of the more outspoken critics of the proposed legislation. Talking to The Guardian he said: "In every other country in the world, post-Snowden, people are holding their government's feet to the fire on these issues, but in Britain we idly let this happen [] Because for the past 200 years we haven't had a Stasi or a Gestapo, we are intellectually lazy about it, so it's an uphill battle."

The Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has stated that he will table amendments to the bill, specifically surrounding the issue of judicial approval.


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