Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham has demanded that stronger safeguards be put in place to mitigate the powers being granted to the authorities in the draft Investigatory Powers Bill.
In the draft Bill reintroduced by Home Secretary Theresa May last week, the government once again set out plans to force internet service providers (ISPs) to retain customer web usage data for at least a year, so that the security services can monitor the web sites people have been accessing.
Labour’s Burnham initially welcomed the Bill, telling the Home Secretary and the Commons, “We support the government in their attempt to update the law in this important and sensitive area,” and saying that the bill is “neither a snooper’s charter, nor a plan for mass surveillance”.
However, in a letter to May seen by the New Statesman, Burnham suggests that the Investigatory Powers Bill needs stronger safeguards in order to qualify the powers granted to the Home Secretary and to reassure the public.
“I have now had the opportunity to study your proposals in detail and have taken advice from the Shadow Justice Secretary. This has given rise to concerns that the safeguards you are proposing are not as strong as it appeared when they were presented to the Commons,” wrote Burnham.
The Shadow Home Secretary expressed concerns that intercept warrants required for accessing ISP data could be too easy to obtain.
“On judicial authorisation, you said in your statement that the authorisation of intercept warrants would be a two-stage process, or a ‘double-lock’. This created the impression that both the Home Secretary and a senior judge would review the evidence,” Burnham wrote.
“On closer inspection of the wording of the Bill, it would seem that it does not deliver the strong safeguard that you appeared to be accepting,” he added.
The Labour Party is concerned that “the current wording does not deliver what we believed was being proposed in terms of the Home Secretary and the Judicial Commissioner double-lock for warrant authorisation,” Burnham said.
“I would be grateful if you could clarify this situation as matter of urgency,” he added.
The Shadow Home Secretary also put forward concerns about the level of the thresholds governing the powers granted to the authorities by the Bill.
“On the powers in the Bill, I remain of the view that there should be a clearly defined threshold justifying their use. This should also apply to the police’s ability to access internet connection record,” he said, arguing that the public requires reassurance over what could be accessed and when.
“Whilst the public will understand the need for the police to access these records in order to investigate child sexual exploitation, kidnap and similarly serious crimes, they will be concerned that police officers should not have unrestricted access in relation to the investigation of lesser offences,” wrote Burnham.
“Therefore, I believe the Bill needs to include clearly defined thresholds for access to internet connection records. The threshold should be based on the seriousness of the crime being investigated. This would provide reassurance that the police could not access the internet connection records of any and every individual,” he added.
The Investigatory Powers Bill has been met with criticism by legal and human rights groups.
“The draft Investigatory Powers Bill contains sweeping new powers for public bodies to track and hack British people’s communications – while failing to include the most basic privacy safeguards,” said civil liberties campaign group Liberty.