I recently wrote to my MP (Alan Campbell, Lab, Tynemouth) regarding some of the concerns I have with the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill. Now that it is the Investigatory Powers Bill and working its way through Parliament, the time for action is upon us. My letter therefore focused on several key issues, rather than a more general request blanket opposition. My letter and its reply are published in full below.


Letter

I would like to begin by wishing you a Happy New Year, in uncertain times for our Party. Today am I writing to express my concern at the Government’s Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, both as a Tynemouth constituent and as a member of the North East’s booming technology community.

The Draft IP Bill attempts to define the State’s bulk and targeted data interception and acquisition abilities. This follows the expiration of existing legislation, a review of existing legislation from previous Governments, legal challenges at the State and EU levels over key pieces of legislation and public pressure following Edward Snowden releasing evidence of mass state and inter-state surveillance.

Clarification of existing powers is clearly needed. However, I remain unconvinced that the technical solutions outlined in this Bill are achievable, both technically and financially. The Government’s are attempting to obfuscate several key issues. Additionally, the proposed ‘double-lock’ system of judicial oversight is half-formed at best.

As a Labour Party member, I believe effective opposition to this Bill will expose the myth that the Conservatives are strong on national security. We have an opportunity to present ourselves as the sensible and pragmatic party when it comes to national security issues.

I urge you to take action in the following ways:

(1) Ensure that the definition of an “Internet Connection Record” is outlined in Primary Legislation, such that it can be effectively scrutinsed by Parliament and relevant third-parties.

The current definition of an Internet Connection Record is incredibly unclear. The Home Secretary claims it is akin to an “itemised phone bill”, i.e they will be able to know that you visited Facebook, but not which pages on Facebook one visits. But this fails to account for the fact that there will be items in your ICR log that you didn’t visit, due to loading of third-party advertisments, or browsers pre-fetching link, or smartphone applications periodically “phoning home” to check for updates. On a technical level, how this is to be implemented is uncertain. Different interpretations can vary the costs of compliance by an order of magnitude.

(2) Reduce the scope of mass surveillance powers in this Bill.

When a Government engages in mass, or ‘bulk’ interception, collection and retention of data, it is doing so on many individuals. This means that your personal information is being examined without you being suspected of committing a crime. It is an irrelevant distraction if this interception, collection, retention and analysis of data is automated or manual. Mass surveillance piles more hay onto an already insurmountable haystack. This is swamping our Intelligence Authorities and making them less effective at preventing crime and terrorism, rather than more effective.

(3) Remove attempts to weaken strong encryption.

Clause 189 obliges service providers to remove electronic protection that they apply to communications. This runs counter to the Home Secretary’s claim that the Government support strong encryption. The strongest forms of encryption that we have do not require a service provider to hold a secret key - this is known as “end to end” encryption. Indeed, you do not need a service provider. But by inserting a clause obliging service providers to decrypt electronic protection, the end effect is to weaken the level of security in Britain, by forcing service providers to use weaker and breakable encryption technologie. Furthermore, this will only target law-abiding entities, whereas crimials will continue to use free and open source unbreakable encryption technology.

(4) Ensure that Judicial Oversight is based on a case’s evidence, not just that the process has been followed correctly.

The Bill adds new powers requiring judicial oversight on any warrant issued. The Judge must verify the warrant process has been followed correctly. This is a great win for supporters of privacy and liberty. However, judges are not required to examine the evidence and independently assess whether the warrant is “necessary and proportionate”. All they need to know is that the Home Secretary is confident the warrant is so. I hope you appreciate this is an easy process to subert.

This Bill has been met with a strong coalition of Opposition, including Liberty, the Open Rights Group, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter. I hope we in the Labour Party can join this coalition of opposition to ensure that this Bill does not weaken the security of the British public and businesses by enforcing historically-ineffective mass surveillance. It is necessary that, in the State’s effort to ensure the security of its citizens by tackling crime and terrorism, it passes laws that are necessary, proportionate, are of sound technical nature and do not actively undermine the security of the British public. Sadly, this Bill does not meet such a test.

Thank you for your attention, I look forward to you response. I am happy to provide additional detail/clarifications, in person or via email, on any of the aforementioned issues.


Response

Thank you for contacting me recently regarding the Government’s draft Investigatory Powers Bill. I read your arguments with interest.

I appreciate that a number of organisations and campaigns, including the ‘Don’t Spy on Us’ campaign, have expressed a number of concerns regarding proposed changes to surveillance and data retention laws.

Our intelligence and security services undertake vital, often unrecognised, work to protect our security and to counter the growing threats that we face, both internationally and domestically. I believe that the huge changes we have seen in technology have left our laws governing investigatory powers outdated, and it is important that the agenices and police have the appropriate up-to-date powers that they need to tackle terrorism, child sexual abuse, serious online crime, and to help locate missing people.

However, it is crucial that a new framework for providing these powers can command public trust by balancing strong powers with strong safeguards to protect privacy and long-held liberties.

There has been a great emphasis on the authorisation of interception warrants, which allow for the use of the most intrusive powers. I have long believed that the full legal authorisation of warrants by a judge would be a key test for this Bill, but unfortunately the Government’s proposals for a ‘double-lock’ do not seem to match up to this.

I will therefore be pressuring the Government to amend the Bill so that it allows for a judge to review the evidence before choosing to authorise, or not, the approval of a warrant. This will provide the proper ‘double-lock’ that the Government has led us to believe they have provided.

I also believe that there need to be stronger safeguards on the powers in the draft Bill, including clearly defined thresholds justifying their use. This should include the police’s access to people’s internet connection records, and the Government should also consider limiting access to these records only to police officers of a specified seniority.

The draft Bill is now being considered by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament, and it will of course be important to continue to scrutinise its measures in further detail. I hope the Government agrees to amend the Bill as it progresses through Parliament to build trust in this new legal framework.

Thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your views. I can assure you that I will be following the debate around this issue and the progress of these proposals very carefully.

Yours sincerely

Alan Campbell MP Tynemouth


A willingness to campaign for full and proper Judicial Authorisation of warrants was one of my key goals with this letter. I’ll be watching with anticipation to see how such an amendment is voted on. There’s a chance that it could actually pass a vote.

Of course, my other points regarding encryption and Internet Connection Records were not addressed. This was to be expected - both points are highly technical in nature. However they’re just as important in order to adequately specify the intent of the law. Now that this Bill is going through Parliament, more work is going to be needed here.

We’re onto something with this one.