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Investigatory Powers Bill - Committee (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 19th July 2016.

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Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice) 5:30 pm, 19th July 2016

I am most obliged to the noble Lord for his intervention. Of course, I did not accompany him to the NCA, so I do not know what examples he was or was not given, and nor did I prepare or draft the operational examples that he referred to earlier. Of course, there are other means by which evidence may be gathered for the purpose of prosecution, but we are looking to the most effective means of doing this going forward, remembering that people are moving away from telephonic communication—using mobiles and telephone systems—and into the use of internet connection by way of such examples as WhatsApp. Our police forces will be blinded if we allow that development and do not attempt to keep up with such developing technology.

On the question of whether there is an evidential requirement, I note that the noble Lord now acknowledges that there is an evidential requirement in the sense that intelligence gathered by way of interception is not admissible as evidence in court.

The question of the cost of carrying out this exercise was raised. The figure of £1 billion has been put about repeatedly, and the experience in Denmark has been referred to on many occasions. However, one has to look at this from the perspective of the United Kingdom and its approach to this matter. We do not accept the estimate of £1 billion that has been given, and indeed—in response to the inquiry from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester—the current estimate of costs is about £175 million. Our figures factor in the existing infrastructure and the requirements already placed on individual communications service providers, as well as the technical complexity of their networks in this context.

One has to bear in mind that, for example, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 and the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 already provide for the retention of source IP addresses and port numbers, which make up part of an internet connection record. So I cannot accept the assertion from the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, that none of these records are provided for under existing legislation. Furthermore, the Bill allows the Government to require the retention of communications data, including internet connection records, only when necessary and proportionate. One must not lose sight of that test in this context.

So we consider that a case was made in the reports regarding internet connection records. We entirely agree with the view arrived at by the Joint Committee. The noble Lord, Lord King, has already quoted from its report that,

“on balance, there is a case for Internet Connection Records as an important tool for law enforcement”.

That has been clearly established by the work that has been done. I acknowledge that of course the Committee of this House wishes to scrutinise this legislation, and it is right that it does so, but it is helpful if it does so against the background and with an understanding of the pre-legislative scrutiny that has already taken place, with regard to the three reports and indeed the recommendations of the Joint Committee. So we submit that the ability to require the retention of internet connection records is a fundamental power that will provide substantial benefits to law enforcement and indeed to the security and intelligence agencies. It is in these circumstances that I say that we cannot support Amendment 156A.

I turn for a moment to Amendment 147A, which seeks to require judicial commissioner approval for applications to acquire internet connection records. I hope that I can persuade noble Lords that the amendment is not needed because we already have a stringent authorisation regime in place that protects against the abuse of applications for communications data. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, alluded to the suggestion that somehow our security agencies and police would have such time on their hands that they would simply roam around such communications data for their own amusement. One is entitled, surely, to discount such a proposition.

The Bill contains robust safeguards for every stage of the acquisition of any form of communications data. This includes requiring the use of an expert single point of contact; authorisation by a designated senior officer who is independent of the investigation and who must be of a rank approved by Parliament; comprehensive oversight by the new Investigatory Powers Commissioner; and the new offence of unlawfully acquiring communications data from a telecommunications operator.

On top of those general requirements, there are extra, specific safeguards for the acquisition of internet connection records. So internet connection records will be able to be acquired only if they are needed for one of the four specified investigative purposes—and local authorities, for example, will be barred from acquiring internet connection records in any form. As well as these protections, we have also tabled an amendment that provides for a crime threshold that must be met before internet connection records can be acquired. We addressed this issue earlier. This will prevent their use for low-level crimes.

So while we recognise that there are sensitivities concerning internet connection records, they will, among other things, be fundamental in resolving IP addresses in certain cases. For example, where the telecommunications operator uses technology that allocates the same IP address to a number of different customers, the internet connection record will help to determine the specific individual in whom law enforcement is interested. There has been cross-party agreement that we need to solve the problem of IP address resolution and I cannot see how it would make sense to require judicial authorisation for some types of IP address resolution but not for others, simply because of the technology that a telecommunications operator uses.

If a public authority were considering acquiring internet connection records in a way that was novel or contentious, it would certainly be right for additional safeguards to apply. That is why the draft communications data code of practice requires any novel or contentious application for communications data to be referred to the judicial commissioner. The Government believe that it is absolutely right that novel or contentious cases are referred to the commissioner, but we do not believe that the tried and trusted authorisation system for communications data should be fundamentally changed when there is no evidence that it is not working. Furthermore, none of the three independent reports that we have referred to and which informed the drafting of this Bill—from David Anderson, the ISC and RUSI—suggested or recommended any changes to the authorisation regime for communications data.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, referred to the recent opinion of the Advocate-General in the case of Watson in the CJEU, which came out this morning. We note what was said in a fairly lengthy opinion. Your Lordships will be aware that that is the opinion of the Advocate-General, not the judgment of the court; a final judgment is anticipated in the autumn of this year. The Government maintain that the existing regime for the acquisition of communications data and the proposals in the Investigatory Powers Bill are compatible with EU law, and clearly it would not be appropriate to comment further while legal proceedings are ongoing. In these circumstances, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.