Last week, the House of Commons debated and voted on the Investigatory Powers Bill (IPB). The IPB sets out the powers available to law enforcement and the security services to monitor communications, but most importantly it enhances the safeguards and oversight arrangements which govern the use of these powers. This Bill will protect both privacy and security, ensuring that our national security is fit for the digital age.
One of the key features of this bill is the introduction of a ‘double-lock’ on warrants to intercept communications. This is a radical overhaul of the way these powers are authorised. The double-lock will require authorisation from the relevant Secretary of State, as well as approval from a judge. This extra safeguard is vital in preserving democratic accountability, while introducing a new element of judicial independence into the authorisation process.
Another key feature in ensuring the protection and privacy of the public is the creation of an independent Investigatory Powers Commissioner. This position will bring three existing commissioners together, creating a world-leading oversight regime. The Commissioner will hold or have held high judicial office and will be responsible for overseeing the use of the powers in this Bill by public authorities. To ensure transparency and openness, the Commissioner will be required to report to the public and to Parliament precisely how the powers are being exercised.
Alongside these two significant protections, the IPB limits the circumstances in which the powers can be used. The Bill makes clear the overarching human rights obligations which constrain the use of any powers, including following domestic and international legal obligations. Furthermore, each power can only be used in a very limited number of situations, and there are strict limits on what can be used for bulk data collection. These limits were recommended by the Intelligence and Security Committee, and are made clear in the accompanying Codes of Practice.
The IPB has been subject to three independent reviews over the last two years, which have played a critical role in the development of these proposals. It has also been examined extensively in committee and is subject to full Parliamentary scrutiny. As a result, the IPB will protect individual privacy while ensuring national security.