March 28, 2017

Home Office breaching Cabinet Office guidelines over surveillance consultation argue campaigners

A group of lawyers, civil liberty groups and trade unions have written to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd to ask her to re-run her consultation into new Codes of Practice required under the Investigatory Powers Act.

The codes include over 400 pages of legal text, outlining how the powers in the IPA will be put into practice. However, the Home Office has allowed respondents just six weeks to give feedback.

The Cabinet Office’s guidelines say that consultations should “Give enough information to ensure that those consulted understand the issues and can give informed responses.” However, the consultation includes just fifteen paragraphs to explain the content of the five documents.

The letter’s signatories are calling for the Cabinet Office to publish more detailed information about the codes, including the changes made since Parliament saw them, followed by a full three months for consultation and to arrange briefings with lawyers, civil society and other interested groups.

The Home Office has been compelled to publish the Codes of Practices after the Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled that documents about the use of surveillance must be made public.

Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group said:

“Amber Rudd wants to be trusted with even more powers to remove security at WhatsApp, yet she is running the flimsiest possible consultation process for her existing powers, designed to stop people from understanding whatever she is proposing.

“She has also failed to explain to Parliament in what way she has changed the Codes from the drafts she showed Parliament. The changes we have detected include watering down strict obligations given to the agencies to more general guidance, by changing words like ‘must’ to ‘may’.”

Thomas Hughes, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19 said:

"The so-called consultation process on these Codes of Practice raises damning questions about the government's approach to democratic participation and open and transparent processes. The Home Office has made it near impossible for any meaningful scrutiny, despite their complexity. A rushed-through consultation is no consultation at all. The Home Office must take immediate steps to ensure a consultation process that lives up to its name and supports the meaningful participation of civil society.”

Rebecca Vincent, UK Bureau Director of Reporters Without Borders said:

"We remain extremely worried by the implications of the Investigatory Powers Act for investigative journalism in the UK. The Home Office's approach to the consultation on the proposed codes of practice presents further cause for concern. Civil society must be given the chance to meaningfully engage on these proposals, in the interest of transparency and accountability."

For more information, contact press@openrightsgroup.org