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Investigatory Powers Bill - Committee (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 19th July 2016.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 3:30 pm, 19th July 2016

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has explained, these three amendments all deal with the issue of third-party data. Amendment 116 seeks to prevent public authorities from acquiring third-party data, Amendment 154 seeks to put the Government’s commitment not to require retention of third-party data on to the face of the Bill and Amendment 235 seeks to amend the definition of communications data to exclude from it third-party data.

On the acquisition of third-party data, the Bill maintains the existing position under RIPA that public authorities can acquire third-party data where necessary and proportionate to do so. But I want to be clear here—a provider is required to comply with a request for communications data, including a request for third-party data, only where it is reasonably practicable for them to do so. It is absolutely right that, where a communications service provider holds, or is able to obtain, communications data, whether in relation to their own services or those provided by a third party, then the data should be available to public authorities for the statutory purposes in the Bill. Put simply, data that already exist, are already held and which could save a life, convict a criminal, prevent a terrorist attack or provide an alibi, should not be put out of reach of law enforcement based solely on which company it is that holds the information.

Amendment 154 deals with the retention of third-party data. As I am sure the noble Lord knows, this matter was considered in the Commons, where the Government gave a commitment to consider it further. I am grateful to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for tabling this amendment and giving me an opportunity to update the Committee on those considerations. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has given a clear commitment that we will not require a telecommunications operator to retain third-party data, and that commitment is given effect to in the Communications Data Draft Code of Practice. However, distilling that commitment into primary legislative drafting is complex. We do not want to include provisions in the Bill that are not entirely clear in scope or which put in place restrictions that are broader, or indeed narrower, than intended. But we have been making good progress and are close to a provision that we think achieves the desired outcome. Of course, we need to test that drafting with operational stakeholders and with those telecommunications operators likely to be affected by the legislation, but we hope to be able to return to this issue on Report.

Finally, on Amendment 235, the principle of what are communications data is clear. Changing that position so that the classification of data changes depending on which provider holds them would no doubt cause confusion among providers as to how the data should be handled. While I understand the concerns around third-party data, and hope that what I have said today lays some of those to rest, amending the definition of communications data is not the right way forward. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw Amendment 116.