Response to the JCHR’s report on the Investigatory Powers Bill

Big Brother Watch Team / June 3, 2016

Yesterday the Joint Committee on Human Rights published their scrutiny report into the Investigatory Powers Bill.

The Committee has made a number of recommendations which Parliament should pay attention to during report stage on Monday 6th and Tuesday 7th June.  In particular their recommendations regarding the modification of warrants, oversight and the broadness of thematic warrantry, all of which are areas we too have raised concern about.

Whilst we support further debate into these recommendations we are concerned about the Committee’s main headline, that bulk powers are not “inherently incompatible with the right to respect for a private life”; particularly when we consider what our future world will look like.

Although we do not profess to have a crystal ball it is not too much of a stretch to consider that within the next 10 years, if not by the end of the decade, every element of our lives will be digital and connected.  Indeed during the Queen’s Speech a Digital Economy Bill was announced, which we understand will see large quantities of our data shared between departments.  If the intention then is for us all to be digital citizens by default we will need to ensure that protections are in place to afford our digital lives the same rights to a private life as we have had as non-digital citizens.

Interference in our personal lives in the offline world usually only takes place if we are suspected of involvement in criminal activity, but bulk powers as outlined in the Investigatory Powers Bill fundamentally alter that standard and broaden them out to be okay, as highlighted in the Committee’s report, if justified legally and determined to be necessary and proportionate.

As the supporting codes of practice to the Bill make clear bulk powers are used when the necessity and proportionality cannot be clearly defined, we shall therefore continue to raise concern that our human rights will be impacted by bulk powers, particularly when we are digital by default.

So, whilst we see the recommendations made by the committee as a positive step in creating better immediate safeguards to the Bill, we hope the real nitty gritty of what protections are needed to keep our future digital selves safe and where necessary private are debated as well, so that human rights standards take into account the future landscape as well as the current one.