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Theresa May revises Investigatory Powers Bill to address right of access

The Home Office has tweaked the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, taking on committee recommendations – but questions remain

The Home Office has published its revised Investigatory Powers Bill – the so-called snooper’s charter.

Home secretary Theresa May said: “The revised bill we introduced today reflects the majority of the committees’ recommendations – we have strengthened safeguards, enhanced privacy protections and bolstered oversight arrangements – and will now be examined by parliament before passing into law by the end of 2016.

“This timetable was agreed by parliament when we introduced the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act in summer 2014.”

Among the areas the Home Office has addressed is the right to access encrypted traffic. In the revised proposal, May said the government would make it clear that companies can only be asked to remove encryption that they themselves have applied, and only where it is practicable for them to do so.

According to the Home Office, the government will not ask companies to weaken their security by undermining encryption.

The revised bill also introduced a so-called “double-lock”, which means warrants must be approved by a judicial commissioner before they can be issued by the secretary of state.

The government’s ability to intercept internet traffic has not been altered, but it will be limited to the nine intercepting authorities that already exist.

The revised bill makes it clear that a warrant must be in place before an international partner is asked to undertake activity in the UK on behalf of a public authority.

In February, human rights organisation Liberty urged the government to pause and undertake a full redraft of its landmark surveillance legislation in the light of growing concern from cross-party members of parliament, technology experts and rights campaigners that no operational case had been made for the unprecedented powers it proposes.

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Commenting on the revised bill, Nigel Hawthorn, Skyhigh Networks’ European spokesperson, said: “Using the argument of national security as a battering ram, the government is once again taking an approach that will cause more harm than good for businesses.

“Encryption is a key capability that makes business traffic safe from prying eyes, and asking companies to weaken, restrict or introduce backdoors is a sure-fire way to ensure that sensitive data will find its way into the wrong hands.

“At a time when countries and businesses are panicking about the security of their information, restricting encryption will only make the situation worse.”

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