Bulk interception warrants

Part of Investigatory Powers Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:13 pm on 7th June 2016.

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Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Civil Liberties) 1:13 pm, 7th June 2016

I thank the Minister for that advice and will pass it on to my constituents, who have the same concerns as I do and whose concerns I am expressing.

As we know, the Bill is supposed to be a basis for the use of those techniques for quite some time, and we are not future-proofing the Bill if we say that it is absolutely fine to have intrusive bulk techniques because now, in 2016, we do not have the technical capabilities to analyse all the data. Some present-day practices are reliant on 32-year-old laws—they date back to 1984, of all years. If we get the measure wrong, there is every possibility that we will enshrine in law invasive practices that will become feasible only at some point in the next 32 years.

Perhaps the most worrying powers of part 6 refer to bulk equipment interference, which the Government helpfully outline as follows:

“bulk equipment interference is not targeted against particular person(s), organisation(s) or location(s) or against equipment that is being used for particular activities”.

It is therefore an indiscriminate form of interference that leaves systems vulnerable, not only to our own security services using their powers sparingly and proportionately, but to those looking to cause harm and to profit from broken security. If the front door of someone’s house has been kicked in by the police, criminals are not prevented from entering after their departure.

Our concerns regarding the bulk powers provisions in part 6 are connected to many of our concerns regarding the use of bulk datasets. At the heart of the matter is the retention of intimate personal details regarding the tens of millions of ordinary citizens of this country who do not merit such information being held by the state. We welcome the review of the use of bulk powers and recognise that other parts of the Bill impact on part 6 —it cannot stand in isolation. If bulk datasets are acquired by other mechanisms in the Bill, how are they to be dealt with and properly handled? Therefore, as we have stressed throughout, the Bill should be easy to understand, and should clarify what is permitted and what is not. We should not provide a mechanism whereby we rubber stamp practices that were never previously debated.

Again, the offline analogy is instructive. If we were asked by the state to deposit our membership forms for various organisations—political parties, campaign groups, golf clubs—or forms with our direct debit details, health records and other such bulk information into a big safe on the understanding that only the security services would have access to it, we would rightly baulk at such a proposal. Just because such a system is being proposed online and without the consent of the individuals concerned does not make it acceptable—in many ways, it makes it much worse. I hope the Minister will address that comparison.

There are also very real dangers that the analysis of bulk personal datasets may lead to suspects being wrongly identified, based on stereotypical or discriminatory assumptions. Some of the biggest miscarriages of justice in these islands, including that of the Birmingham Six, have been carried out on precisely the assumptions that predicate the analysis of bulk datasets—people who ticked all the right boxes and yet just happened to be entirely innocent.

It is not that the Government are not aware of the problems they are creating. The principles of targeting and specific warranting appear in various guises throughout the Bill. The Government need to fully embrace both principles and apply them to the collection, storage and analysis of data. If they fail to do so—and so far they have failed—and if they still cannot prove the operational necessity of these intrusions into the private lives of everyday citizens—and so far they have not proven that—then they should not expect the support of this House for those measures. It is not acceptable, or it should not be acceptable, for any Government to ask for proposed legislation that is about to be reviewed to be nodded through.

Every year in this and the other place, these Houses play out, in all their finery, the historic role of Parliament in limiting the powers of the Executive. Let us remember that role when we vote on the unprecedented extension of powers in the Bill.