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Petition to force MPs to consider debate on surveillance bill

Open Rights Group has called on parliament to debate the Investigatory Powers Bill and review it in light of pending court actions, after petition against the bill tops 100,000 signatories

The UK parliament will have to consider a debate on the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill (IP Bill) now that a petition against the legislation has topped 100,000 supporters.

The petition calling for the repeal of the new surveillance laws passed by both houses of parliament reached the required number of signatories for a debate at the weekend. 

“The IP Bill was debated and passed while the public, media and politicians were preoccupied by Brexit,” said Open Rights Group executive director Jim Killock

The bill requires only royal assent before becoming law, but opponents, who say the legislation is too intrusive, believe the government should still reconsider.

Killock said there is renewed concern about the extent of the powers that will be given to the police and security agencies now that the bill, also known as the Snoopers’ Charter, has reached the final stage.

“In particular, people appear to be worried about new powers that mean our web browsing activity can be collected by internet service providers and viewed by the police and a whole range of government departments.

“Parliament may choose to ignore calls for a debate, but this could undermine public confidence in these intrusive powers. 

“A debate would also be an opportunity for MPs to discuss the implications of various court actions, which are likely to mean the law will have to be amended,” he said.

“Parliament may choose to ignore calls for a debate, but this could undermine public confidence in these intrusive powers”
Jim Killock, Open Rights Group

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is due to clarify its rulings on data retention in a case brought by Labour MP Tom Watson.

The case was also brought forward by conservative MP David Davis, but he dropped the case shortly before it was announced he was to be appointed Brexit minister in prime minister Theresa May’s cabinet.

According to Killock, the CJEU’s judgment could mean parts of the IP Bill are shown to be unlawful and need to be amended.

Read more about the Investigatory Powers Bill

Open Rights Group is also one of a number of organisations that have brought a case to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that the UK’s surveillance regime breaches our right to privacy.

The Home Office, which is responsible for the IP Bill introduced by Theresa May while still home secretary, claims the bill is necessary to protect the country’s national security, and that it has sufficient oversight for the surveillance powers it gives.

No alternative to controversial bulk surveillance

The IP Bill grants intelligence agencies the ability to obtain and use bulk personal datasets that will include mostly individuals who are not suspected in any wrongdoing.

In August 2016, a report by David Anderson, Queen’s Counsel, said there was no alternative to the controversial bulk surveillance powers proposed in the bill, but human rights group Liberty said there was no compelling operational case for each of the IP Bill’s bulk powers.

For each bulk power, Liberty said, an exploration of the technical options available to our spies shows that a targeted approach would do the job just as well.

IT service providers and privacy campaigners alike have expressed concerns about “equipment interference” provisions allowing security services to hack into computers, networks and mobile devices.

But supporters of the bill have argued there is more oversight than ever before, pointing out that security and intelligence agencies must apply for a warrant from the secretary of state, and these groups are the only people who can complete bulk hacks.

Access to internet history data

Another controversial provision of the bill is that security services and police forces will be able to access communications data, which means internet history data will have to be stored for 12 months.

Communications service providers will also have to store metadata about the communications made through their services, raising concerns about how this data will be protected.

If parliament does not review the bill in light of the petition and legal challenges, it is likely to become law before the end of 2016, in line with the government’s target to have legislation in place before the expiry of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (Dripa) that was rushed through Parliament in July 2014.

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