JUSTICE: Rushing the new Investigatory Powers Bill does nothing for public trust

On 1 March, the Government published the latest iteration of its Investigatory Powers Bill.  The Bill will have its Second Reading in the House of Commons in the next two weeks.

Since 2011, JUSTICE has called for a coherent, holistic rewrite of surveillance law to increase accountability and transparency, to provide clear powers necessary for the protection of us all and robust protections for the right of privacy.

JUSTICE welcomed the overwhelming Parliamentary consensus that the Draft version of the Bill required substantial redrafting to remove or revise overbroad, imprecise or vague powers and to strengthen crucial protections for individual privacy.

The Intelligence and Security Committee, the Joint Committee on the Draft Bill and the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons, each made recommendations designed to strengthen the proposed framework and designed to support the Government’s goal of creating a “world-leading” surveillance law for a digital age.

JUSTICE regrets that the final version of the Bill appears largely unchanged.  We share the views of David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, that this remains a “work in progress”.

For example, while the Bill now addresses legal professional privilege, it authorises interference with privileged material in any circumstances a Minister considers “exceptional and  compelling”.

At 258 pages and accompanied by almost 500 pages of codes of practice and supporting material, we are concerned that the Government intends the Bill to pass by December.

Between then and now there are many weeks of Parliamentary recess and prorogation, and limited time for focused scrutiny.  The timeline is determined by the sunset clause which sees the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill lapse at the end of 2016.  It would, of course, be open to Parliament to extend these powers, and to commit to further time to create a truly comprehensive and comprehensible surveillance law fit for a digital age.

Andrea Coomber, Director, JUSTICE said:

“Surveillance laws constructed well save lives; those constructed poorly undermine individual privacy, public confidence in our security agencies and our commitment to the rule of law.   There’s a lot invested in getting this law right.  Parliamentarians should insist on the time needed to do the job properly.”

On 1 March, JUSTICE joined a cross-party and cross-disciplinary group of over 100 individuals and organisations in a letter to the press, calling for caution and greater time for Parliamentary scrutiny.  Read the letter here.

You can read JUSTICE’s full response to the Draft Bill, here.