Belfast Telegraph

Snoopers' Bill deeply flawed one

By Les Allamby

Important legislation - the Investigatory Powers Bill (IPB) - is to become law soon. The IPB is the Government's answer to the mass surveillance of communications exposed by Edward Snowden. Everyone agrees the current legislation needs replacing.

The Government wants to bring together the powers available to law enforcement agencies to obtain communications and data about communications in one place and make these powers and safeguards understandable.

Sadly, these aims are not being met. Three parliamentary select committees have been critical of the Bill's lack of clarity, the reach of surveillance, gaps in safeguards and oversight, and a failure to set out which approach would be taken to universal privacy protections of normal communications.

Concerns were also raised about the protection of journalists' sources, lawyers' legal privilege and parliamentarians' confidentiality of communications. The Government, in response, has made limited changes.

Critics have included the UN special rapporteur on the right to privacy, who concluded that disproportionate measures, such as bulk surveillance contemplated in the Bill, should be outlawed rather than legitimised.

The UK approach contrasts with the US, which last year banned bulk data collection. The Bill requires web and phone companies to store records of websites visited by everyone for 12 months.

The authorisation of interceptions does not require reasonable suspicion to justify interception and there is no need to demonstrate criminal involvement.

Moreover, public authorities can go to a judicial commissioner to obtain an order to access journalists' sources without telling the broadcasting authority or its lawyers that it is doing so.

The use of surveillance should be proportionate and justifiable with safeguards and oversight. The legislation proposed goes way beyond this. Everyone who makes a telephone call, sends an email or uses Facebook will be affected.

There should be an informed public debate. However, the Bill will be passed before that debate has meaningfully started.

Les Allamby is chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

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