Filtering arrangements for obtaining data

Part of Investigatory Powers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 14 April 2016.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 4:45, 14 April 2016

We can probably satisfy the need to address the concerns that have been raised. First, let us be clear about privacy. To restate what I said when we began our consideration of the Bill, because there is no one’s canon that I like to draw on more than my own,

“privacy…is at the heart”––[Official Report, Investigatory Powers Public Bill Committee, 12 April 2016; c. 90.]

of all we do. The defence of private interests and the protection of the public are the essence of the Bill. This filter is, of course, an additional safeguard. It will allow public authorities, when they are dealing with such a request, to consider on a case-by-case basis what needs to be released and, by implication, what does not.

The Joint Committee on the Bill considered this matter in some detail and concluded at paragraph 38:

“We welcome the amendments that have been made to the Request Filter proposal. They constitute an improvement on that which was included in the Draft Communications Data Bill.”

There is, however, an argument about the process once a request has been made, and that is the argument made by the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras.

The code of practice goes a long way towards making things clearer in chapter 9, paragraphs 9.1 to 9.4. Indeed, that chapter describes the request filter as

“an additional safeguard on the acquisition of communications data” that will work in tandem with other safeguards to

“limit the volume of communications data being provided to a public authority.”

Therefore, the filter is a way of eliminating unnecessary data from release.

Nevertheless, I hear what the hon. and learned Gentleman says about ensuring that the permission to do that is in the hands of the right people and dealt with in the right way. It might be that we can say a little more about that in the code of practice. I will take a look at that, because there is an argument for refining that part of the code.

In response to the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West, it is clear that public authorities will sometimes need to make complex inquiries. For example, they may ask multiple questions of multiple communications service providers for data to identify an unknown person who is suspected of having committed a crime at different places and at different times. The complexity of the requests is the context in which the application of the filter will be applied.

Currently, public authorities might approach communications service providers for location data to identify the mobile phones in specific locations at the relevant times to determine whether a particular phone and a particular individual is linked to three offences. To get to the end that I have described, very large amounts of data would be required, so the filter process is both a safeguard—a protection—and a way of making the system more practicable. For all of those reasons, it is an important part of the Bill. Having said that, I hear what is being said about the process rather than the principle of it. Maybe we could look at the process, but I am absolutely committed to the principle and on that basis I commend the clause to the Committee.