Home News Conservative Government’s “landmark” Investigatory Powers Bill receives Royal Assent

Conservative Government’s “landmark” Investigatory Powers Bill receives Royal Assent

by Brian Sims

A “landmark” document produced by the Conservative Government which sets out and governs the powers available to the police and the security and intelligence agencies when it comes to gathering and accessing electronic communications has received Royal Assent.

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 will ensure that law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies have the powers they need in a digital age to disrupt terrorist attacks, but subject to strict safeguards and world-leading oversight.

The new legislation brings together and updates existing powers while radically overhauling how they’re authorised and overseen. It also creates one new power: the introduction of Internet Connection Records, which will be accessible by law enforcement and the intelligence agencies to disrupt terrorist attacks and prosecute suspects.

The legislation protects both the privacy and security of the general public by introducing:
*a ‘double-lock’ for the most intrusive powers, such that warrants issued by a given Secretary of State will also require the approval of a senior Judge
*a powerful new Investigatory Powers Commissioner to oversee how the powers are used
*new protections for journalistic and legally privileged material, and a requirement for judicial authorisation for the acquisition of communications data that identify journalists’ sources
*tough sanctions – including the creation of new criminal offences – for those misusing the powers

The Investigatory Powers Bill responds to the recommendations of three independent reviews and underwent a period of extensive pre-legislative scrutiny before being revised and introduced in the House of Commons on 1 March this year.

Over 1,700 proposed amendments to the original Bill were debated by Parliament before it concluded its passage through the House on Wednesday 16 November.

In receiving Royal Assent, the Conservative Government has fulfilled its commitment to pass this legislation before the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (DRIPA) ‘sunsets’ on Saturday 31 December.

Confronting the challenge

Home Secretary Amber Rudd

Home Secretary Amber Rudd

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: “This Government is clear that, at a time of heightened security threat, it’s essential our law enforcement, security and intelligence services have the powers they need to keep people safe. The Internet presents new opportunities for terrorists, and we must ensure that we have the capabilities to confront this challenge, but it’s also right that these powers are subject to strict safeguards and rigorous oversight.”

The Home Secretary continued: “The Investigatory Powers Act is world-leading legislation that provides unprecedented transparency and substantial privacy protection. I would like to pay tribute to the independent reviewers, organisations and Parliamentarians of all parties for their rigorous scrutiny of this important law which is vital for the safety and security of our families, our communities and our country.”

Some of the provisions in the Investigatory Powers Bill require extensive testing and will not be in place for some time. The Home Office is developing plans for implementing the provisions and will set out the timetable in due course. This will be subject to detailed consultation with industry and operational partners alike.

In the meantime, the Government will commence the provisions in the Bill required to replace DRIPA 2014.

Liberty speaks out

Following the news that the Investigatory Powers legislation has now been granted Royal Assent, Bella Sankey (policy director for civil liberties and Human Rights champion Liberty) said: “It’s a sad day for our democracy as this Bill – with its eye-wateringly intrusive powers and flimsy safeguards – becomes law.”

Sankey continued: “The Home Secretary is right that the Government has a duty to protect us, but these measures will not do the job. Instead, they open up every detail of every citizen’s online life to state eyes, drowning the authorities in data and putting innocent people’s personal information at massive risk. This new law is world-leading, but only as a beacon for despots everywhere. We reiterate that the campaign for a surveillance law that’s fit for the digital age continues, and must now move to the courts.”

Lee Munson, a security researcher at Comparitech.com, observed: “For those people saying they having nothing to hide, and hence nothing to fear, the passing of the Investigatory Powers Bill into statute will be something of a non-event. Privacy advocates and an increasing proportion of the rest of the population may well be concerned, however, that the so-called ‘Snooper’s Charter’ for so long championed by new Prime Minister Theresa May has now been passed by the House of Lords.”

Munson added: “Law-abiding citizens across the country could now see their web browsing history stored for a year, while GCHQ will be able to intercept online communications with ease and what appears to be very limited oversight. Whether citizens have anything to hide isn’t for them to decide. Their Government will do it for them.”

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