In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

On the Investigatory Powers Bill


What are the problems with the “Snooper’s Charter”? (Edited: Wikimedia Commons)

Technological upheaval can leave existing institutions in disarray. Government laws can be rendered decrepit.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) was only passed in July 2000, regulating the powers of public bodies in their investigations and surveillance. Following scandals involving spying on families by local councils [1], and the revelations of Edward Snowden [2], the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) 2014 was proposed, requiring that internet and telephone companies keep communications data for up to a year, with police and intelligence agencies being able to access this information.

(Video: David Davis MP)

A judicial challenge was levied against the DRIPA by Tom Watson MP (Labour, West Bromwich East) and David Davis MP (Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden) [3].

In the recess left by this ruling, coherent and comprehensive legislation was required. The Draft Investigatory Powers Bill seeks to fill this void, still requiring the holding of all communications data for a year, but has been criticised by parliamentary committees [4].

It is not a question that intelligence services and security agencies should have the ability, in certain circumstances, to obtain private data of citizens, to survey their activities, or to access their records. The question is the authority under which this surveillance and extraction occurs, on what grounds it may occur, and how these decisions are scrutinised. Typically, accessing private information has required reasonable suspicion, which instigates a judicial warrant.


We must call [Name to be replaced] to make an urgent correction to the House. (Source: GOV.UK)


The Intelligence and Security Committee, which has nine members and is chaired by Dominic Grieve MP (Conservative, Beaconsfield), said “the privacy protections are inconsistent and in our view need strengthening”, and should apply universally [5]. Furthermore, the committee stated the provisions of three capabilities — Equipment Interference, Bulk Personal Datasets and Communications Data — are “too broad and lack sufficient clarity”.

The agencies have several mechanisms for obtaining communications data, which details who made the communication, to whom, where, when and how they made it. Communications data does not concern the content of a communication, like what was written or said. These different mechanisms are through individual requests to service providers, such as telephone or internet companies; bulk acquisition; related communications data from a bulk interception; and requests from foreign intelligence agencies. These different methods “are not authorised in a consistent manner”, with “a variety of different safeguards”.

“Massive dragnet”

The Science and Technology Commitee also had concerns about the draft Bill [6]. Requiring all internet service providers to hold all communication data for all internet access made by all citizens for a full year is highly disproportionate. As Matthew Hare, the CEO of broadband network Gigaclear, told the Committee:

The fact is that 99.999% of their activity will be completely innocent, so it is a massive dragnet on the basis that at some point in the future you might be able to reconstitute data that might mean you could find out something about somebody in the past.

The protection of personal data should be at the heart of any new Bill on investigatory powers. It will be a matter of serious concern for MPs, and a lengthy debate must follow.


[1] BBC, 2008. Council admits spying on family. Available from: [Accessed: 14th February 2016]

[2] BBC, 2014. Edward Snowden: Leaks that exposed US spy programme. Available from: [Accessed: 14th February 2016]

[3] Bowcott, O., 2015. High court rules data retention and surveillance legislation unlawful. The Guardian. Available from: [Accessed: 14th February 2016]

[4] GOV.UK, 2015. Draft Investigatory Powers Bill. Available from: [Accessed: 14th February 2016]

[5] BBC, 2016. Internet monitoring bill ‘must do more to protect privacy’. Available from: [Accessed: 14th February 2016]

[6] Parliament, 2015. Oral evidence: Investigatory Powers Bill: technology issues, HC 573. Available from: [Accessed: 14th February 2016]



This entry was posted on February 29, 2016 by in National Politics and tagged , , , , , .
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