Labour supported the Investigatory Powers Bill at its Third Reading in Parliament as we believed that following the important concessions Labour won in a number of key areas, the Bill is on the right track to becoming the overdue legislation we need to better protect our privacy and national security.
Following the Snowden revelations it is vital that we overhaul the transparency, safeguards and scrutiny of investigatory powers. The changing nature of crime – increasingly global, increasingly online and increasingly fast moving – also means that our security services and police need new tools to tackle new threats.
When the Government introduced the Investigatory Powers Bill to the House of Commons earlier this year it was clear that there were significant shortcomings in the legislation. Labour rightly emphasised that the Government would have to address our serious concerns in seven key areas if we were to support introducing the Bill within the current timetable (which requires the Bill to become law by the end of 2016).
Over the last three months, the Labour Party has pushed the Government on these seven areas and as a result have secured a series of important concessions. Some of the most significant are:
1. Agreement for an independent review of the bulk powers that are included in this Bill. This review will be carried out by David Anderson, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation; it will consider the necessity of the bulk powers, not only their use; and it will be made available (as far as security concerns allow) to Parliament and the public.
2. An overarching privacy clause to ensure that privacy is at the heart of the Bill.
3. An historic commitment that trade union activities cannot be considered sufficient reason for investigatory powers to be used.
4. Assurances that the ‘double lock’ process includes power for Judicial Commissioners to scrutinise the decision to issue a warrant, not just the process.
5. A clear commitment to work with Labour to find an appropriate threshold that will ensure communications data and Internet Connection Records (ICRs) can only be used for serious crimes and offences that cause serious mental or physical harm.
6. An amendment specifying that NHS and wider health records can only be retained and accessed in ‘exceptional and compelling’ circumstances
7. Assurances that the Bill will be amended further as it progresses through Parliament to ensure there are stronger protections for sensitive professions such as lawyers and journalists from the use of investigatory powers.
These are significant improvements to the Bill which ensure that there are much stronger safeguards and protections in the legislation.
There is more work to be done and the Labour Party will continue to push the Government to take on more of our suggestions as the Bill passes through Parliament. However, it is a vastly improved Bill to the one the Government introduced in March and it is one I believe we should support as it introduces important new safeguards and an updated legal framework for the use of these powers.
20 June 2016