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The big privacy and policy story of the day in the UK is the publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on the draft Investigatory Powers Bill - which is currently being pushed  through an abbreviated parliamentary process.

The Bill’s authors get a rough ride from the committee. This is from the ISC Chairman’s covering press release:

“Taken as a whole, the draft Bill fails to deliver the clarity that is so badly needed in this area. The issues under consideration are undoubtedly complex, however it has been evident that even those working on the legislation have not always been clear as to what the provisions are intended to achieve. The draft Bill appears to have suffered from a lack of sufficient time and preparation."

Here’s the ISC’s site with a link to the report itself: http://isc.independent.gov.uk/news-archive/9february2016

And here are a couple of good, short pieces of analysis from reliable tech/policy commenters:

Ian Dunt (politics.co.uk) - http://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2016/02/09/bad-day-for-britain-s-spies-as-intelligence-watchdog-grows-t

Glyn Moody (arstechnica.co.uk) - http://arstechnica.co.uk/tech-policy/2016/02/previously-tame-uk-parliament-watchdog-rips-into-new-snoopers-charter/

The Bill is criticised in almost every respect:

  • it doesn't achieve its stated goal of bringing all the interception powers into a single statutory instrument;
  • it fails to bring clarity to the purpose and goals of the policy it embodies;
  • it does not include operational justifications, without which parliament cannot decide on its adequacy - and will not include them until after it is expected to be passed into law;
  • its provisions for privacy protection are piecemeal and unclear;
  • the safe guards applied to use of comunications data are "inconsistent and largely incomprehensible".

In other words, it has been drafted in haste, by people some of whom don't know - or can't articulate - what it is supposed to do. As a result, it is confusing and grants over-broad powers with insufficient safeguards.

If the Bill were to be passed as is, the ISC's report would offer a ready supply of ammunition to anyone seeking to challenge it on grounds of necessity, proportionality and legal certainty. 

For the ISC's report to be so frankly critical is somewhat unexpected. Under its previous chairman, the committee said little, and what little it did say consisted of bland reassurances that the security and intelligence services were doing a fine job. (See my personal blog post "pelted with marshmallows", from just over two years ago...).

This Bill has been rushed through an abbreviated consultation period: the Home Secretary used the November Paris attacks to justify shortening the normal parliamentary process. The Bill’s consultation committee was given about 3 weeks of parliamentary time to conduct its expert witness hearings and consider any written evidence submitted, either side of the Christmas/New Year parliamentary recess. It is due to publish its own report on Thursday.

This puts the consultation committee in an interesting position. If its report is less critical than that of the Intelligence and Security Committee (which is, after all, the specialist in this area), its credibility will be called into question. If its report is equally critical, the Bill itself will be even more deeply discredited.

Photo Credit: Licensed under Creative Commons, attribution: non-commercial 

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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