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Theresa May promises strong oversight in surveillance bill

The proposed Investigatory Powers Bill contains “very strong” oversight and “world-beating” authorisation procedures, according to home secretary Theresa May

Home secretary Theresa May has promised strong oversight in the Investigatory Powers Bill she is expected to introduce in parliament on 4 November 2015.

In 2013, the controversial Communications Data Bill, dubbed the “snoopers’ charter”, was blocked at the last minute because of opposition from the Liberal Democrats.

But the new bill, although also aimed at giving police and intelligence agencies the power to monitor online communications, will lack the “contentious” parts of the earlier bill, May told the BBC.

In June 2015, an independent report by David Anderson QC said any legislation that seeks to increase the surveillance powers of the police and intelligence services must include verification, clear limits and safeguards.

Labour politicians and civil liberties groups have called for all warrants to be approved by judges.

May said the bill contains “very strong” oversight over powers to access communications and “world-beating” authorisation procedures for warrants to access more intrusive data.

While internet service providers (ISPs) will be required to retain their customers’ web browsing history for 12 months, authorities will not be able to see what specific pages were viewed without a warrant.

The bill will also not require UK or foreign communication service providers to store third-party data.

“[The bill] is about bringing the ability of our law enforcement and security services to deal with criminals and terrorists forward into the digital age … and ensuring we can stop them and disrupt them,” she said.

According to May, government ministers have looked at all the arguments about handing the responsibility of approving warrants to independent judges.

The decision will be announced on 4 November 2015, she said, along with the government’s position on encryption.

In January 2015, prime minister David Cameron was criticised for saying he would consider banning communication channels that could not be accessed by security services granted a warrant.

Cameron said: “In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which … we cannot read?”

After whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations of mass internet surveillance by the NSA and its allies, internet firms have responded to public demand for encrypted services.

But the emergence of encryption for all web-based communications has been identified as a major problem for law enforcement agencies.

“There should be no dark, ungoverned spaces on the internet,” Bernard Hogan-Howe, head of London's Metropolitan Police Service told a briefing hosted by the security and resilience network of the business membership organisation London First in May 2015.

Read more about the UK Investigatory Powers Bill

  • Tim Berners-Lee called on government to prove it can build an electronic communication monitoring system that is accountable to UK citizens.
  • The draft Investigatory Powers Bill to increase surveillance is already controversial, but there are growing concerns over the potential economic consequences.
  • The latest surveillance review calls for a new, comprehensive and clearer legal framework in the UK to provide a fresh start on a basis of mutual trust.

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