Over the last 11 years in Parliament, I have genuinely changed my mind on one significant area – that is, the balance between security and keeping the citizen safe, and civil liberties.
We live in a dangerous world where terrorists use ever more sophisticated technology to plan death and destruction and I believe we now need to update our tools to fight this existential threat to our country’s security. Having been travelling on the London tube network on 7/7 and having lost a constituent in the outrage, I am firm in my support this week for the Government’s proposed Investigatory Powers Bill.
There’s been a lot of nonsense spoken about the so-called and misnamed “snoopers charter” but the facts are pretty clear and need to be explained to people who may be (rightly) protective of their privacy.
The Bill sets out all the powers available to law enforcement and the security services to monitor and access communications and communications data. Most importantly it also enhances the safeguards and oversight arrangements which govern their use, establishing a world-leading regulatory system.
It brings together all of the powers already available to law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies to obtain communications and data about communications and also radically overhauls the way these powers are authorised and overseen. It introduces a ‘double-lock’ for interception warrants, so that, following authorisation by the Secretary of State, these cannot come into force until they have been approved by a judge. A powerful new Investigatory Powers Commissioner to oversee how these powers are used has also been created.
It is important that those who keep us safe have the necessary powers that are fit for the digital age. Provision is made for the retention of internet connection records in order for law enforcement to identify the communications service to which a device has connected. This will restore capabilities that have been lost as a result of changes in the way people communicate.
The enhanced privacy safeguards, which are at the heart of the Bill, protect not only sensitive professions but the public at large. Protections for lawyers and journalists have been bolstered, and the Government has made clear it will continue to work closely with industry to develop plans for retaining internet connection records. It is also welcome that for the first time the Government has published an operational case for bulk powers alongside the Bill, giving unprecedented detail on why the agencies need their existing powers, and how they are used.
Investigatory powers have been the subject of three independent reviews over the last two years, and these have played an important role in developing the proposals in the Bill.
The Government previously published the Bill in draft form in November 2015, and it was revised to reflect the majority of the recommendations made by the Joint Committee, Intelligence and Security Committee and the Science and Technology Committee. It will also be subject to full Parliamentary scrutiny, following the normal Parliamentary timetable, so that it can be passed by the end of 2016.
The Government has no greater duty than to protect its citizens and for that reason I am prepared to support the Home Secretary and this new Bill in the hope that it will protect us all from evil as well as protecting the ancient rights and privileges that we have been used to for hundreds of years.