The Joint Committee on Human Rights said bulk data collection powers are "capable of being justified if they have a sufficiently clear legal basis, are shown to be necessary, and are proportionate in that they are accompanied by adequate safeguards against arbitrariness".
The Committee's comments were contained in a report outlining its scrutiny of the draft Investigatory Powers Bill that the UK government has proposed. The Bill sets out a number of major planned reforms to existing UK surveillance laws and aims to consolidate existing powers in one piece of legislation. Under the Bill UK intelligence agencies would have a qualified right to obtain personal datasets in bulk for national security reasons under warrants that would be issued by UK ministers.
However, in February another parliamentary committee that scrutinised the draft Bill said that the UK government had still to demonstrate that intelligence and security agencies need to obtain 'bulk personal datasets' (BPDs) to preserve national security.
In its report the Joint Committee on Human Rights said that both the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the EU are due to explore "whether bulk powers are inherently incompatible with the right to respect for private life" in separate litigation and that it would not give its view on whether the Investigatory Power Bill's powers on bulk data "have a sufficiently clear legal basis" and are qualified by adequate safeguards pending the outcome of those cases.
The Committee said David Anderson QC, the UK's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, should assess the UK government's "operational case for the bulk powers" under the Bill. Anderson has "access to any supplementary sensitive information which the government may wish to rely on in making the case for the necessity of the powers", it said.
"The independent reviewer has already undertaken a comprehensive and well respected review of investigatory powers, but he has not had an opportunity to assess the operational case for the bulk powers," he said.