By Muirinn O’Neill, Consultant, London
After closely following the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill evidence sessions, Political Intelligence Consultant Muirinn O’Neill gives her predictions on the key themes in this week’s #IPBill evidence session with Theresa May.
After racing through eight evidence sessions in just over a month, the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill is holding its final and arguably most important session to date this Wednesday, when the Committee will hear evidence from Home Secretary Theresa May. Despite the Prime Minister describing the Bill as the most important to go through Parliament this session, the Committee has been given relatively little time to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny and is due to report on February 11th, raising questions as to whether the Bill will receive the level of scrutiny it deserves.
One thing that has become apparent throughout the Committee’s evidence sessions is that the majority of the Committee generally favour this legislation. We’ve seen Committee members attempt to undermine those who’ve been critical of the Bill, whilst Government officials have been allowed to dodge more difficult questions. Expect Lord Strasburger to be the only member to really challenge May, and Victoria Atkins MP to be her strongest ally, following on from her attempt to undermine ex NSA director William Binney last week by suggesting that his knowledge was out of date, following his assertion that bulk data collection was an ineffective measure. Expect the words ‘proportional’ and ‘necessary’ to be used throughout and constant referral to the need to tackle serious crime such as child abuse and terrorist plots.
Here are the key themes to watch out for during the session:
Internet Connection Records
A fixture of every Committee session thus far, members will quiz May on the feasibility and utility of Internet Connection Records (ICRs). Following continuous avowals from technical experts that the £174m proposed in the Bill to cover the costs of ICRs is unrealistic, May will definitely be questioned on the robustness of this figure. We can also expect questions on the provisions similar to ICRs which were introduced, and eventually dropped due to their ineffectiveness, in Denmark.
When representatives from the Home Office appeared in one of the Committee’s first sessions, members were keen to ask about the provision which allowed the Home Secretary to remove electronic protection and what this might mean in terms of encryption. In the end, the Home Office did not answer the question, whether May will be allowed to avoid answering the same question is unclear. This is obviously a crucial issue for UK tech and clarity would be of real value to the industry.
The lack of clear definitions included in the Bill has been a talking point in every evidence session. Whilst Government representatives have asserted that this is simply to future-proof the Bill, critics have pointed out that the vagueness may allow the Government to extend their powers. Following Information Commissioner Christopher Graham’s convincing plea for a sunset clause on the Bill, which would force Parliament to review the powers annually, May could also be asked her opinion on future reviews of the Bill.
A sticking point for the Draft Communications Data Bill, the request filter is certain to be a bone of contention during May’s evidence session. Expect May to say that the new safeguards and criminal offence provisions laid out in the Bill will mitigate the risk of security services using the filter on fishing expeditions.
Warrants and Ministerial power
Curiosity about how the Home Secretary deals with warrants and the need for judicial oversight have been constant themes throughout and are sure to feature heavily during the session. Expect Committee members to question the Home Secretary on how much power she has and the fact the UK is one of the few European countries that doesn’t currently have judicial authorisation for interception warrants. May will reiterate the points made in the Home Office written submission to the Committee, in which it was claimed that the ‘double lock’ process introduced in the Bill for the authorisation of warrants represents a ‘significant strengthening’ of current safeguards.
The Committee is due to report their findings and make recommendations in February, after which the Bill will be debated in the House. However, as Home Office Minister John Hayes has alluded to, Government is expecting very few changes to the Bill as it stands. Whether this is due to a wide consensus on the need for the Bill or due to the fact the Bill will have a limited time to be scrutinised, is definitely up for debate.