Snooper's Charter: MPs urge Theresa May to rewrite key sections of controversial spy legislation

Influencial parliamentary inquiry concludes the bill is unclear and gives spies powers they don't need

Nigel Morris
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 09 February 2016 20:29 GMT
The ISC is worried by the 'inconsistent and largely incomprehensible' approach to 'data collection'
The ISC is worried by the 'inconsistent and largely incomprehensible' approach to 'data collection' (Getty Images)

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Crucial parts of the Government’s “snooper’s charter” plans are vaguely worded, rushed and do too little to protect law-abiding citizens from being spied upon, a damning report by MPs and peers has warned.

They raised a series of objections to the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, which gives the police and security services the power to access records of every Briton’s web-browsing habits and forces communications companies to hold data about internet use for up to 12 months.

The influential Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) protested the legislation “suffered from a lack of sufficient time and preparation” and was so unclear that Home Office officials seemed confused about its aims.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is facing demands to respond to the criticism by rewriting key sections of the controversial legislation, which was drawn up following Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the extent of mass surveillance of the public.

The comments were a blow to ministers’ hopes of securing a smooth passage for the Bill, which they hope will become law by the end of the year.

The ISC, which took evidence in private from Ms May and the heads of the GCHQ, MI5 and MI6, expressed surprise that protection of privacy “does not feature more prominently” given the outcry that followed Mr Snowden’s revelations.

It said it was worried by the “inconsistent and largely incomprehensible” approach to “data collection” – the monitoring of telephone calls and internet use, but not their contents.

The committee said the acquisition of “bulk personal data-sets”, large tranches of data bought or obtained from other organisations such as government departments, with warrants was allowed by the Bill. It said the power should be scrapped as it could include “personal information about a large number of individuals, the majority of whom will not be of any interest to the agencies”.

The former Conservative Attorney General Dominic Grieve, the committee’s chairman, said: “It has been evident even those working on the legislation have not always been clear as to what the provisions are intended to achieve.”

The findings marked the second time that the Bill has come under fire in a parliamentary report.

The Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman said the draft Bill could be amended, adding: “We’ve been clear we want to get this absolutely right. That is the point of pre-legislative scrutiny.”

Renate Samson, the chief executive of Big Brother Watch, said: “The committee has dealt a serious body blow to the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill.”

Legal snooping: Charter concerns

“Equipment interference”

What: Hacking and bugging of phones and computers.

Concerns: “Targeted” warrants are adequate, as they apply to “all equipment where there is a common link between multiple people, locations or organisations”.

“Bulk personal datasets”

What: Obtaining information such as government records or phone logs to identify “subjects of interest” or “links between” them.

Concerns: Could sweep up details of huge numbers of law-abiding citizens, infringing their privacy.

“Communications data”

What: Giving security services the authority to monitor phone, email and internet use.

Concerns: The Bill is “inconsistent and confusing” and lacks transparency over how internet records are acquired.

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