The Investigatory Powers Bill

Wednesday, 29th July 2015

The Queen's Speech, delivered on 27 May 2015, announced the legislative agenda for the current parliament. Amongst the legislation announced was the Investigatory Powers Bill, relating to interception and communications data. The Bill aims to maintain the ability of UK-based intelligence and law enforcement agencies to target online communications of serious criminals.

This announcement sees the return of The Communications Data Bill, which the Conservatives previously attempted to push through whilst in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The so-called "Snooper's Charter" sought provide intelligence agencies increased rights to carry out surveillance in order to prevent online based serious crime. This included an obligation on Internet Service Providers ("ISP's") to hold data on their customers' communications for at least a year. This legislation was repeatedly blocked by the Liberal Democrats but now, without Nick Clegg at his side, David Cameron has sought to bring back the proposals in the Investigatory Powers Bill.

The newly proposed Bill seeks to provide the relevant agencies the ability to keep UK citizens safe by addressing the concerns of the government that a "gap in capabilities" is putting lives at risk.

With online based crime increasing, the new legislation will provide a modern approach to current laws, to enable law enforcement and intelligence agencies to carry out their investigations and address the concerns that there is a gap in the agencies’ ability to develop intelligence and evidence when suspects have communicated online. However, these proposals have been met with some criticism by Big Brother Watch, a lobbying group against the proposed changes.

Details regarding the scope, detail and estimated hand down date of the Bill itself remain unclear; however, it is likely that this Bill will fulfil two previous goals of the government, detailed in the report, ''Privacy and Security: A modern and transparent legal framework'':

1. Reform of the existing legislation in this area, in particular the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 ("DRIPA").
2. The introduction of legislation requiring communication service providers and ISPs to retain the web browsing history associated with their subscribers’ devices.

Theresa May had set a deadline of December 2016 for the Investigatory Powers Bill - however last Friday the High Court ruled that Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 is unlawful and has given the government until March 2016 to correct the relevant provisions.  This judgment, combined with the report on the investigatory powers review published last month by David Anderson QC, place increased pressure on the government to push through the Investigatory Powers Bill

Clearly, these changes will affect Public Sector bodies. Obviously, law enforcement and intelligence agencies will be given additional tools in order to combat online crime. The government have confirmed that the legislation covers "all investigatory powers including communications data", so this may have a wider scope than previous versions of the legislation.

All internet users will be subject to the legislation and therefore authorities could see their ISP's keep a record of all web browsing for a minimum term, the duration of which is yet to be confirmed. 

In an open letter regarding such changes, academics have criticised the proposed changes amid concerns that the additional surveillance powers will hinder online security, stating that it "threatens the security of all internet services as the tools intelligence services use to hack can create or maintain security vulnerabilities that may be used by criminals to commit criminal acts and other governments to invade our privacy". If correct, this could have serious implications as the security of data held by organisations may be compromised. These risks and concerns could force authorities to consider enhanced security infrastructure and lead to additional IT costs.

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Christopher Coughlan

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+44 (0)117 321 8060


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