MPs discussed and voted on the Investigatory Powers Bill last week in the report stage of the Bill's progression through Parliament. This was MPs' third vote before the Bill was sent to the House of Lords. The Bill was passed by a vote of 444 to 69. Here's an overview of the points that were raised for discussion – many of which will be debated again by the Lords.
There have been repeated calls for an overarching privacy clause to be added to the Bill. The Home Office attempted to address this previously by inserting the word 'privacy' into a heading within the Bill, which was greatly derided. This time the Government proposed a new Privacy Clause 5; Labour also proposed their own privacy clause, Clause 21. It has been pointed out that the two clauses are very similar. Keir Starmer MP argued that Labour's clause tightened up references to human rights and public law. However, after discussion, he backed down in favour of the clause proposed by the government.
This clause only pays lip service to privacy and does little to restrain the powers in the bill.
Bulk Powers and warrants
Bulk powers were discussed extensively over the two days' debate. The Government has agreed to an independent review of bulk powers that opposition parties had asked for. This review will be carried out by David Anderson QC.
Conservative party defended bulk powers with many MPs using 'nothing to hide, nothing to fear' arguments.
Suella Fernandes MP (Conservative) even went as far as to justify the necessity of bulk powers by claiming we are in a war (in this particular case against Daesh). John Hayes followed her statements by saying it is not important whether the powers are necessary. What matters are safeguards that come with the powers.
Dominic Grieve (Conservative) emphasised that the Information and Security Committee recommended to remove bulk equipment interference warrants from the Bill. Grieve also explained that he finds bulk powers necessary; targeted interception (suggested instead of bulk collection), according to him, is not always effective if it is not clear what the intelligence are looking for.
Labour were broadly supportive of the Government. Keir Starmer (Labour) made references to the necessity of bulk powers for intelligence agencies several times in his speeches. He explained he understood their importance to tackle threats since he served as the Director of Public Prosecutions and worked closely with the agencies.
He was interrupted by David Winnick (Labour) who clearly stated that he doesn't accept the principle of bulk powers. Starmer responded with the reasoning that these powers are in use already and as such should be put in law so they could be regulated.
Starmer further expressed his appreciation to the Home Secretary for setting up the independent review of bulk powers to be conducted by David Anderson. MPs requested that Keir Starmer and John Hayes publish their letters on the terms of reference for the review they exchanged prior to the debate.
The SNP opposed the call for necessity of bulk powers in the Bill. Joanna Cherry MP (SNP) also welcomed the review of bulk powers; however she was more concerned with the consequences of the findings of the review. She stressed that the review needs to consider whether these powers are necessary at all. Cherry maintained the position that bulk powers go too far in a democratic country and should be removed from the Bill until the review establishes their necessity.
The Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) Dominic Grieve MP brought up issues of penalties several times from various angles. His first point of concern was about lack of penalties for abuse of power in the Bill. Minister Hayes assured him that these will be in place. Grieve requested that the Minister writes to him explaining what penalties will be incorporated in the Bill. He also pointed out that the penalties remain scattered throughout the whole Bill and would need a better structure.
Stephen McPartland MP (Conservative) raised an issue businesses might face when they would need to comply with a hacking warrant. As laid out in codes of practice, communications service providers would be subjected to a technical capability notice, meaning they would need to notify the government of new products and services in advance of their launch. Essentially, UK-based companies will have to ask the government for permission to put their product on the market. This requirement will make it more difficult to innovate and could have harmful effect on the UK economy.
New amendments discussed included extra protections for MPs against interception of their communications. According to the amendments, the Prime Minister will be responsible for approving hacking of MPs. Harriet Harman disagreed with this provision on the grounds of the PM potentially using this power for spying on the opposition and ministers.
New amendments were brought in to introduce minor changes to protect journalistic sources. However the MPs still debated who qualifies as a journalist. Andy Burnham voiced his opinion that voluntary bloggers shouldn't have the same protections as journalists.
Stephen McPartland (Conservative) brought up the issue of the request filter through probing amendments with an intention to obtain more information from the Minister. The biggest concern he voiced was regarding too many agencies having access to the request filter and Internet Connection Records. He also questioned who will be in charge of building the filter. McPartland pointed out that government has a notoriously bad record of building large IT projects and the filter might not even become a reality.
The Solicitor General responded that the request filter is there to limit what different agencies access. The Government has attempted to frame the request filter as something that restricts access to data but in reality it would create a vast population-wide database that could be analysed without a warrant.
Independent review of bulk powers
This topic has come up several times despite it being discussed at length the previous day. The main point of the discussion was the question coming from the SNP bench whether the Minister (John Hayes) will consider removing the bulk powers provisions from the Bill if David Anderson's review will show they are not necessary. John Hayes avoided answering the question.
The Bill will be introduced to the House of Lords on 27 June 2016.