techUK says Investigatory Powers Bill still poses a threat to the digital economy

Written as editor of the New Statesman’s NS Tech and first published here.

The Investigatory Powers Bill has now received a full going over by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and a trove of new amendments have arrived from MPs ahead of its first proper debate in parliament next week.

These include a wide range of small changes to language, as well as: a proposal to set up an Investigatory Powers Commission, rather than simply appointing a Commissioner; a plan to restrict data interception warrants in relation to trade union activity and MPs’ communications; and making it a very clear offence to misuse the powers outlined.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has said it: “welcomes the steps which the Bill takes towards providing a clear and transparent legal basis for the investigatory powers already used by the security and intelligence agencies and law enforcement authorities, and towards enhanced safeguards”.

“But the Bill could be improved to enhance further the compatibility of the legal framework with human rights,” the committee’s report explains.

It says it found that bulk interception is not “inherently incompatible with the right to privacy” but this should now be referred to the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation before the Bill completes its journey through parliament.

techUK’s head of cyber and national security Talal Rajab has said that while the recognition of privacy concerns has offered a “step in the right direction” for companies providing digital products and services, “we’re not out of the woods yet”.

“Many of the concerns raised by the tech industry, particularly around Internet Connection Records, encryption and the extraterritorial application of the Bill, require further scrutiny and clarity,” he said.

“Failure to do so will make it harder for government to achieve its aim of delivering world-leading legislation – one which underpins rather than undermines the UK’s world-leading digital economy.”

Many of the amendments proposed deal with small points of language, rather than the technical or cost issues consistently raised by tech firms – and the subsequent trust issues that could be created with customers by the government’s demands for access to data.

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