4 Nov 2015

Who is worrying about the investigatory powers draft bill?

Nick Clegg made a rare appearance in the Commons chamber to check on his old foe Theresa May. He said he was suspicious of her much trailed Investigatory Powers Bill and would want to look very carefully under the bonnet. As Deputy Prime Minister, he scotched her last attempt to change the law.

For good measure her current nemesis, Boris Johnson, weighed in saying he was queasy about the idea of police superintendents being able to access communications data without any kind of special judicial authorisation. Police say its critical to their work. The Home Office says 95 per cent serious organised crime prosecutions used communications data.

The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, was asked on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme if he agreed with the idea that no warrant was needed for such police searches. He ducked the question saying he didn’t necessarily agree with everything in it. He said it was a “quite intrusive” element of the powers and that this was “one element of the Bill that Parliament will want to look at quite carefully” that might benefit from a greater outside, independent element. In general he gave the government four stars for following many of his recommendations.

In that same interview, Mr Anderson acknowledged that Edward Snowden (whose revelations triggered this round of legislation) had done some good, accelerating encryption and getting people more interested in accountability. He’d done a lot of bad too, Mr Anderson said.

At the heart of the pre-trail by the Home Office was the claim that they were responding to the Snowden revelations about bulk data trawling and putting such secretive powers into the public domain with proper judicial oversight. It would no longer be the Home Secretary on her own signing off on, say, intercept warrants (she signed 2795 of them last year and has said she spends quite a bit of time on each one). She would have a judge marking her homework in future.

Tory MP David Davis said that the judicial oversight reads to him as though it is merely getting judges to check procedures have been followed not to check the legal merits of the warrant.

The Investigatory Powers Draft Bill now starts a consultative process. Some bits will change. Some suspect those clever people who work in these fields have left what they might call “sleepers” in the system, elements of the bill they’re happy to jettison or see altered in order to hold on to the bigger elements.

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