Offence of unlawful interception

Part of Investigatory Powers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 12 April 2016.

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Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General 10:15, 12 April 2016

It is a pleasure to take this first opportunity to say that I am looking forward to serving under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries, and indeed to serving with all colleagues on the Committee.

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for making her observations in a succinct and clear way. I am able to answer her directly about the approach that we are taking. One of the aims of the Bill is to streamline provisions to make them as clear and easy to understand as possible. She is quite right in saying that RIPA had within it this provision—a tort or a delict, as it is called north of the border, that would allow an individual to take action against a person who has the right to control the use or operation of a private telecommunications system and to intercept communication on that system.

The Government have fielded a number of inquiries about the non-inclusion of the RIPA provision in the Bill. The circumstances in which it applies are extremely limited, and as far as we are aware it has never been relied on in the 15 years of RIPA’s operation. The provision applies only in limited circumstances because it applies to interception on a private telecommunications system, such as a company’s internal email or telephone system. Where the person with the right to control the use or operation of the system is a public authority, there are of course rights of redress under the Human Rights Act 1998, such as article 8 rights.

The Bill is intended to make the protections enjoyed by the public much clearer and we feel that introducing that course of action or replicating it would not add to that essential clarity, but I have listened carefully to the hon. and learned Lady and we are happy to look again at the issue in the light of her concerns. On that basis, I invite her not to press her new clause and I hope we can return to the matter on Report.