Safeguards relating to disclosure of material or data overseas

Investigatory Powers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 21 April 2016.

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Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Scottish National Party, Paisley and Renfrewshire North

I shall do my best impression of her, Mr Owen, but I fear it will be inadequate.

I beg to move amendment 296, in clause 113, page 91, line 22, at end insert—

“(A1) Material obtained via a warrant under this Part may only be shared with overseas authorities in accordance with the terms of an international information sharing treaty.”

This amendment would require that information obtained via an equipment interference warrant is only shared with overseas authorities where a mutual legal assistance treaty has been put in place for the purpose of doing so.

Clause 113 deals in part with the overriding issue of information obtained through equipment interference being shared with overseas authorities. We should take note of the oral and written evidence submitted by Amnesty International on this point about the lack of any proper controls over intelligence sharing with foreign authorities. The human rights implications may be very serious indeed. For example, there is nothing in the Bill to prevent data being shared with an overseas authority when that might lead to the abuse, or possibly torture, of an individual or group. Surely we should set an example by ensuring that data gathering does not lead to torture; that should be the minimum standard expected of a civilised country such as ours.

However, if the SNP and Amnesty International are a little left-wing for hon. Members’ tastes, I give them the Intelligence and Security Committee, which also criticised the lack of clarity on this point when it noted that the Bill

“does not…meet the recommendations made in the Committee’s Privacy and Security Report that future legislation must set out these arrangements more explicitly, defining the powers and constraints governing such exchanges.”

The written evidence submitted by Yahoo! and others expressed concern that the Government’s apparently unilateral assertions of extraterritorial jurisdiction

“will create conflicting legal obligations for overseas providers who are subject to legal obligations elsewhere.”

David Anderson has also noted the lack of detail in this section of the Bill. He called for information sharing with foreign countries to be subject to strict, clearly defined and published safeguards. His report states:

“The new law should make it clear that neither receipt nor transfer as referred to in Recommendations 76-77…should ever be permitted or practised for the purpose of circumventing safeguards on the use of such material in the UK.”

However, such safeguards and guarantees are notably absent from the Bill. Furthermore, the independent reviewer’s report described the international trade in intelligence between the “Five Eyes” partners—the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In so far as material gathered by the British services is shared with other countries, the report explained that the security services take the view that, under their founding statutes, information should be shared only if it

“is necessary for the purpose of the proper discharge of the security and intelligence agencies’ functions.”

When it is considered that the test is met, certain safeguards apply under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. However, the report concluded that

“in practical terms, the safeguards applying to the use of such data are entirely subject to the discretion of the Secretary of State.”

The 2000 Act and the codes of practice are silent on British services receiving or accessing information from foreign services, with security services limited only by the general constraints placed on their actions by various statutes. It was only during Liberty’s legal action against the security services in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal that limited information was revealed about the way in which the security services approach such situations. In its first finding against the agencies, the IPT held that, prior to these disclosures, the framework for information sharing was not sufficiently foreseeable and was not therefore in accordance with law. The tribunal held that, because the litigation had resulted in disclosures of information, the security services were no longer acting unlawfully when accessing information from the US. Based on the concerns that Amnesty International, Liberty and others have raised, the SNP has tabled amendment 296, which would insert a new subsection into clause 113. The language of the amendment is plain.

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s comments. On the sharing of information with authorities that may engage in torture or other serious ill-treatment, can the Minister confirm the long-standing practice that our security and intelligence services do not share information where there is a risk of torture, because of their obligations under other international treaties, and that this provision sits within that framework of assurances?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I can confirm that, and I can say a little more. My residual generosity is such that I take the view that these amendments are well intentioned, but they are unnecessary. Let me say why.

Clause 113 already provides that the Secretary of State must ensure that satisfactory and equivalent handling arrangements are in place before sharing UK equipment interference material with an overseas authority. The Secretary of State must determine that they provide corresponding satisfactory protections. Furthermore, those obligations sit alongside those in, for example, the consolidated guidance to intelligence officers and service personnel on the detention and interviewing of detainees overseas, and on the passing and receipt of intelligence relating to detainees, as well as the gateway provisions that allow for intelligence sharing in the Intelligence Services Act 1994 and the Security Service Act 1989.

In addition, the overseas security and justice assistance guidance provides an overarching mechanism that sets out which human rights and international humanitarian law risks should be considered prior to providing justice or security sector assistance. This is supplemented by the draft code of practice on equipment interference, which is clear about the safeguards on the handling of information. It seems to me that the protections, absolutely necessary though they are, are comprehensively dealt with by that variety of means, rendering the amendment unnecessary. I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Scottish National Party, Paisley and Renfrewshire North

I thank the Minister for his comments, and I am somewhat reassured, but I still do not understand the Government’s reticence to put this in the Bill; it is only a sentence that is required. Nevertheless, we are minded to withdraw the amendment at this time. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 113 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 114