Proposed revisions to UK’s draft IP bill are laudable, but do not go far enough

Even with joint committee clarifications, the bill would remain fatally flawed

United Kingdom — Today the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill released a report on the proposed UK surveillance legislation.

The committee recognised a number of flaws with the current proposal, including provisions that would undermine privacy, the protection of personal data, and freedom of expression.

While Access Now commends the committee for recognising flaws, the committee should have insisted on significant, structural changes to the bill rather than superficial clarifications. The Home Office should extend its pre-legislative review and concretely address the fundamental problem with codifying broad, invasive surveillance tools that undermine rights and weaken the internet.

“The committee acknowledges that it is ‘inarguable that citizens’ private lives and inner thoughts are now captured in communications technology to a far greater extent than previously’ and then goes on to condone the government’s invasion of this private sphere. This bill is a wish list for law enforcement. It will be up to the people’s representatives in parliament to defend the people’s interests,” said Estelle Massé, Access Now Policy Analyst.

As recommended by Access Now, the Joint Committee recommended adding a specific clarification that the bill will not require companies to compromise encryption. Access Now explained to the committee that the “free development, distribution, access, and use of encryption protects confidentiality of communication, increases trust, helps prevent crime, and contributes to a healthy economy.”

“Encryption is one of the strongest tools we have to protect privacy and security on the internet. Encryption protects our data and our devices from compromise or theft. As written, the draft IP bill could be read to enable the government to force companies to break encryption to fight crime. That’s robbing Peter to pay Paul. It’s a positive step that the committee asked the government to clarify that companies would not be asked to break encryption,” said Drew Mitnick, Access Now Policy Counsel.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament have also released evaluations of the proposal. The three reports, taken together, contain numerous recommendations for changes or clarification on issues such as data retention, government hacking, and judicial oversight. One of the reports even noted, “the draft bill is handicapped from the outset in terms of the extent to which it can provide a clear and comprehensive legal framework to govern the use and oversight of investigatory powers.”  

The bill will now go back to the Home Office for a rewrite before being presented to the two Houses proper. However, the penumbra of recommendations from the three committee reviews indicates the numerous reasons why this draft bill fails — on protecting human rights, on providing transparency, and on simplifying existing law. The Home Office should go back to the drawing board and work towards presenting a bill that makes sense.


Media contacts:

Amie Stepanovich, US Policy Manager, Access Now

[email protected]

Drew Mitnick, Policy Counsel, Access Now

[email protected]