Today, the UK Parliament’s Draft Investigatory Powers Bill Joint Committee—a group of Members of Parliament charged with assessing a draft of sweeping new surveillance legislation—issued an important report recommending significant changes to the proposed law. The Committee’s report explicitly opposes any government effort to require encryption backdoors, urges the adoption of clearer definitions of key terms, recommends that the new body that would authorize UK surveillance be more independent, and calls out provisions for supposedly “targeted” surveillance that could be abused by authorities who wish to spy on large numbers of people.
“The Joint Committee is absolutely right to oppose encryption backdoors and to tell the UK government it shouldn’t try to get away with using ‘targeted’ surveillance to monitor large groups of people who have no meaningful connection to any wrongdoing,” said Sarah St.Vincent, Human Rights and Surveillance Legal Fellow at the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT). “The Committee clearly understands the ways in which the government can and very well may exploit any loopholes in the law. The Home Secretary and Parliament should take the Committee’s recommendations to close those loopholes very seriously.”
“The Committee’s report is far from perfect, and we disagree with a number of its recommendations, including some of those concerning equipment interference and data retention,” St.Vincent added. “However, the Committee’s frank recognition of the ways these powers can threaten privacy rights, as well as its clear concern about government overreach, are on the right track.”
“Everyone in the UK—in fact, everyone around the world, given the global extent of many of the powers the UK government would have under the Bill—needs to be worried about this legislation. This report strongly reinforces that point,” St.Vincent concluded.
The UK Home Secretary released a draft of the Investigatory Powers Bill, which covers surveillance issues ranging from the interception of the content of communications to the retention of metadata and government hacking of systems and devices, in November. CDT has criticized the draft Bill and submitted comments to the Joint Committee that are quoted in several important sections of the report. The Home Secretary is expected to introduce the Bill formally to Parliament later this year.
CDT will continue to advocate for major reforms to the Bill and will also have additional analysis of the report available at cdt.org.