My Lords, I am sure the whole House is relieved to hear of this newfound friendship between their two noble Lordships. It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell. He and I served together on the Intelligence and Security Committee in the last Parliament.
I am particularly pleased to take part in this Second Reading debate today, not least because the ISC—on which, along with the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, I have the honour to represent your Lordships’ House—has over the past three years published two reports on investigatory powers. At the end of the last Parliament, the Intelligence and Security Committee, including the noble Lords, Lord Butler of Brockwell and Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, produced a substantial report entitled Privacy and Security: A Modern and Transparent Legal Framework. It covered in detail the gamut of the intrusive powers available to our security and intelligence agencies, and concluded that existing legislation was “unnecessarily complicated”, outdated and lacked transparency. It needed to be replaced by a modern, transparent legal framework fit for the internet age. Since that report, as well as the ones mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, from the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation and RUSI, the Government introduced the draft Investigatory Powers Bill. This was the subject of the ISC’s second report, which made many specific recommendations towards improving the Bill, especially in those areas relating to certain investigatory powers where the legal authorisations were opaque and the safeguards, in our view, insufficient.
This Bill is a significant step forward in clarity, transparency and enhanced safeguards. For the first time, it provides an explicit statutory footing and authorisation procedure for bulk personal datasets, equipment interference and bulk acquisition of communications data. Where authorisations and procedures already existed under RIPA, these have now, thankfully, been set out more clearly in this Bill. They will also now, under the Bill, be subject to the additional protection of judicial commissioner approval.
I readily acknowledge that the Government have engaged constructively with the ISC throughout the passage of this Bill. Several of our recommendations on the draft Bill were incorporated during its passage in the other place. We have also, helpfully and reassuringly, been provided with additional classified evidence regarding other matters raised in our report, most notably on the use of bulk equipment interference and the need for economic well-being as a ground for interception.
On the crucial operational purposes, which regulate the examination of material collected using bulk powers, we suggested that there was insufficient detail in the Bill as to how they would be regulated and managed. The Government have now committed themselves to include further detail on this which I look forward to seeing during the following stages of the Bill.
On bulk personal datasets, the Government have confirmed that they will introduce amendments adding extra safeguards where these contain sensitive data. Already, following changes in the other place, there are now welcome restrictions on the use of powers to investigate legitimate trade union activities and greater restrictions on bulk personal datasets containing medical records. These are welcome.
However, we continue to press for additional restrictions on the use of these powers in relation to sensitive personal data. I hope that we will in due course see government amendments to implement these additional protections.
Turning to thematic interception and equipment interference warrants which concerned the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, they also concern us in that we feel they can be drawn very widely, potentially catching a large number of people in a single warrant. These concerns have still not been completely met by the Government but the Home Secretary has told my committee that she is considering what more can be done to provide further assurance about how these thematic warrants will operate. Again, we look forward to seeing that.
The ISC still has concerns about provisions for criminal offences in relation to the misuse of powers. The Bill refers to already existing offences apparently necessary to avoid a confusing overlap. However, for the misuse of certain powers, the only criminal offence would be misconduct in public office, which, in my view certainly and in the view of others, is an old common law offence which prosecutors are often reluctant to pursue. For other abuses, the only criminal penalties would be fines under the Data Protection Act and the Wireless Telegraphy Act, almost certainly not sufficient for the most egregious cases of misuse.
This Bill has been introduced to this House in clearly better shape than when it was originally published, and for that I congratulate the Government. However, there are further improvements which can and should be made, hopefully by government amendments at the forthcoming stages of the consideration of the Bill.
At stake is the difficult balance between an individual’s right to privacy and society’s need for national security. There will, I fear, never be total consensus on that balance. While the ISC has consistently concluded that the agencies’ operational techniques are justified, we have equally been insistent on the right constraints being placed on their use. I hope that with the further revision to the Bill which will take place in this House, we will get these constraints right, without undermining the agencies’ vital work to keep us safe. That is the balance we seek to achieve. This Bill has the potential to achieve it.