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My Lords, Amendment 176 is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee. It would insert an additional clause after Clause 125, giving the Secretary of State power to amend the Police Act 1997 in relation to the authority given to law enforcement to place, use, maintain or retrieve,
“any equipment, apparatus or device which would enable the interception of any communication”,
so that such authority is in line with equivalent warrants under this Bill. The wording does not entirely do its job but it is a start. The intention of the amendment is to draw attention to anomalies in the granting of authority to law enforcement officers to intrude into people’s privacy and the need to bring all law enforcement surveillance authorities up to the same standard, as provided by the majority of the Bill.
The reason for there being no double lock involving a Secretary of State in Clause 100 is that the legislation currently used by law enforcement to carry out equipment interference—the Police Act 1997—does not require authorisation by the Secretary of State. This amendment allows the Secretary of State to amend the Police Act 1997 to ensure that similar authority levels apply across law enforcement and the security services, and to other types of intrusive surveillance not covered by the Bill.
As I have said, the Police Act 1997 is the legislation currently used by the police to conduct equipment interference. As the amendment suggests, the powers in the Police Act allow the police to plant tracking devices in cars, for example, and covert transmitting and recording equipment in people’s homes and offices. Under these current powers, a police chief can, without your knowledge or consent, plant a concealed camera or microphone in your home or office without a warrant, without judicial oversight and with no Secretary of State authority. Not only is that unacceptable, it is inconsistent with the Bill.
Noble Lords will be aware that equipment interference warrants issued to the security services are subject to the so-called double lock—the Secretary of State and the judicial commissioner. Clauses 96 and 97, on the power to issue equipment interference warrants to intelligence services, and Clause 98, on the power to issue equipment interference warrants to the Chief of Defence Intelligence, all require Secretary of State and judicial commissioner double-lock authority. Indeed, noble Lords have argued in previous debates on the Bill—and the Government have not demurred—that it is a constitutional necessity that politicians who can be held to account by Parliament authorise warrants. We disagree but the Government cannot have it both ways.
Clause 100, “Power to issue warrants to law enforcement officers”, as drafted requires no Secretary of State involvement whatever. It is the chief of the law enforcement organisation, on application by an appropriate law enforcement officer—one of his own staff—who may issue a targeted equipment interference warrant. This is a significant inconsistency in the Bill. Equipment interference is as intrusive as interception, if not more so, yet the police can self-authorise without Secretary of State involvement. Granted, there is an improvement on the current situation, in that under the Bill a judicial commissioner will have to approve the warrant. However, this is only a single lock in terms of independent oversight, not a double lock as in the case of all other warrants under the Bill. The explanation is that currently, under the Police Act 1997, the police may self-authorise equipment interference.
Either, as we have argued previously in relation to police interception warrants, the judicial commissioner alone should approve law enforcement warrants in crime cases that are not politically sensitive, or Clause 100 must include Secretary of State approval. Whichever course the Government decide to take—double lock in the case of both law enforcement interception and law enforcement equipment interference warrants, or only judicial commissioner approval—surely the current position, whereby the police can bug your office and film covertly inside your home without a warrant or Secretary of State approval, should not be allowed to continue. Hence the need for this amendment.
The wording of the amendment may not be perfect but the intent is now crystal clear. I would be grateful if the Minister provided a reasoned explanation for the anomaly in the Bill. If I may assist the Minister, I would not consider “Because we’ve always done it that way” a reasoned explanation. I would also be grateful if the Minister explained the Government’s view on whether it is right for a police chief to accede to a request from one of his own officers to film covertly inside someone’s home without consent, without a warrant and without Secretary of State approval. I beg to move.