UK Home Office introduces fast-tracked, deeply flawed Investigatory Powers Bill

The Joint Committee statement from two weeks ago pegged the bill as weak

London, UK — Today the UK’s Home Office introduced a new version of its Investigatory Powers Bill (IP Bill) for consideration by the UK Parliament. This latest version of the bill, which  represents the UK’s attempt to consolidate and expand its surveillance laws, demonstrably fails to respond to criticism of previous iterations by  civil society groups, companies, and security experts.

“The UK’s new draft of the IP Bill brings surface-level improvements but remains flawed in its essence,” said Estelle Massé, Access Now Policy Analyst. “The Home Office needs to go back to the drawing board to develop a draft that will protect citizens and their human rights.”

Access Now is among the UK and international organizations that previously provided comments on the IP Bill to the parliament’s Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill. We explained that it grants the UK government broad authority that would undermine privacy, digital security, the protection of personal data, and freedom of expression, and fails to provide adequate transparency or independent oversight.

Two weeks ago, the Parliamentary Joint Committee examining the draft IP Bill released a report stating that the draft missed the mark on several points; namely, that it appeared to attack encryption; extended unjustified bulk surveillance powers; provided for disproportionate collection of internet connection records; and lacked provisions for adequate review. In a separate analysis, the parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee further criticised the IP Bill, and called for it to include universal privacy protections and additional restrictions.

The updated draft of the IP Bill released today includes a new chapter which appears to be aimed at addressing some of the bill’s deficiencies, consolidating privacy protections that were previously scattered throughout the legislation. They also include codes of conduct which exist separate from the bill itself. However, it addresses the rest of the concerns voiced by the joint committee only superficially, and other problems remain unmitigated.

“Despite calls from civil society and broad support in various parliamentary committees for a provision that would defend development and use of strong encryption, the new draft fails to provide such protection,” said Drew Mitnick, Access Now Policy Counsel. “This is completely unacceptable and would allow the UK to apply its own harmful standards on the rest of the world, undermining digital security globally.”

In addition to the separate comments to the Joint Committee, Access Now emphasised 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.”

“The Home Office is cherry-picking from committee recommendations in order to push forward with undue haste, due to the looming sunset clause in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) of 2014,” Estelle Massé added. “However, this process cannot be rushed if the real goal of the bill is to serve and protect the people.”

Access Now calls on the Home Office to provide the privacy and transparency assurances that are so desperately needed. Access Now has also joined a coalition of groups calling on the Home Office to give this bill the time it needs. The letter states, “the Government’s intention to pass the Investigatory Powers Bill in such great haste is not in the nation’s interest.”

With an appropriate timeline, and a transparent and inclusive process for discussion, the bill could be improved. The Don’t Spy On Us coalition recently published a comprehensive report on  “ How to make the IP Bill fit-for-purpose.” As it stands, it is up to the two houses of parliament either to address the inadequacies in the draft IP Bill or reject it altogether.