Majority of UK MPs back Investigatory Powers Bill in vote

Out-Law News | 08 Jun 2016 | 12:42 pm | 2 min. read

Proposed new UK surveillance laws were backed by a majority of MPs on Tuesday in a vote in the House of Commons.

The Investigatory Powers Bill was passed by 444 MPs, with 69 MPs voting against the draft legislation.

The Bill would give UK law enforcement and intelligence agencies the power to require telecommunication service providers to retain and hand over so-called communications data, including for the first time 'internet connection records', to help combat terrorism, serious crime or protect the UK's economic interests, among other limited purposes provided for in the legislation.

The Bill also sets out new rules to govern the interception of communications and use of equipment interference powers. It also outlines UK intelligence agencies' qualified right to obtain personal datasets in bulk for national security reasons under warrants that would be issued by UK ministers.

The vote comes as investigative journalism platform The Intercept published a report that it said was prepared by UK intelligence officials for the UK government in 2010 regarding UK surveillance capabilities. The document, classified as 'UK secret', contains a warning about UK authorities' ability to identify "life-saving intelligence from data" when processing large volumes of information.

The leaked report said: "The Security Service has already become the principal collector and exploiter of targets' digital footprint in the domestic space. By dint of its specific needs and role, some of the techniques it uses are unique to the Service. But its efforts ... are in imbalance. It can currently collect ... significantly more than it is able to exploit fully. This creates a real risk of 'intelligence failure' i.e from the Service being unable to access potentially life-saving intelligence from data that it has already collected."

Earlier this month a UK parliamentary committee said that giving the intelligence and security services a right to collect data about citizens in bulk is not "inherently incompatible" with people's right to privacy. 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 Investigatory Powers Bill is next scheduled to be scrutinised by the House of Lords at the UK parliament.

The government has requested that David Anderson QC, the UK's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, review the "operational case for bulk powers" (1-page / 99KB PDF) under the Bill.

Civil liberties campaigners the Open Rights Group said that an ongoing legal challenge to existing UK data retention laws will influence whether provisions in the Investigatory Powers Bill need to be amended to accord with EU law.

It said it would "challenge mass surveillance in the courts" if the Investigatory Powers Bill facilitates such activity.

"It is not acceptable to blur the line between legitimate, targeted surveillance of criminals, and the bulk analysis of whole population data," the ORG said.

According to a BBC report, UK intelligence agency GCHQ said: "All of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position."