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National security notices

Investigatory Powers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 3rd May 2016.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office) 4:30 pm, 3rd May 2016

I beg to move amendment 853, in clause 216, page 166, line 36, after “State”, insert

“following approval by a Judicial Commissioner”.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 854, in clause 216, page 166, line 41, after “State”, insert “and a Judicial Commissioner”.

Amendments 853 and 854 would require judicial authorisation for national security notices. This would also extend the “double lock” standard that is set in other parts of the Bill.

Amendment 845, in clause 217, page 167, leave out lines 20 and 21 and insert—

“(1) The Secretary of State may, following approval by a Judicial Commissioner that the notice is justified, practicable, necessary and proportionate, give a relevant operator a notice (a ‘technical capability notice’)”.

This amendment would require judicial authorisation for Clause 217 and bring the clause in line with other provisions within the bill that require judicial authorisation.

Amendment 855, in clause 217, page 167, line 20, after “State”, insert

“following approval by a Judicial Commissioner”.

This amendment would require judicial authorisation for technical capability notices. This would also extend the “double lock” standard that is set in other parts of the Bill.

Amendment 852, in clause 220, page 171, leave out lines 1 and 2 and insert—

“(9) The Secretary of State may, after considering the conclusions of the Board and the Commissioner, and with approval of a Judicial Commissioner—”

This amendment would require judicial authorisation for these clauses and bring them in line with other parts of the bill.

Amendment 859, in clause 220, page 171, line 4, at end insert—

“(9A) Any variation made under subsection (9) must be approved by a Judicial Commissioner.”

This amendment would require judicial authorisation for the variation and revocation of national security and technical capability notices. This would also extend the “double lock” standard that is set in other parts of the Bill.

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

The amendments go in pairs: amendments 853 and 854 are to clause 216, amendments 845 and 855 to clause 217 and amendments 852 and 859 to clause 220. They all have the same purpose and intent: to subject the powers in the clauses to the double-lock mechanism—in other words, to involve the judicial commissioners in those powers.

Clause 216 is concerned with national security notices. Subsections (1) and (2) make the power to issue such notices subject only to the test that they be

“necessary in the interests of national security” and “proportionate”. There is no specific reference to any operational purposes; it is a very broad power. Once a notice is issued, subsection (3) takes effect:

“A national security notice may…require the operator to whom it is given—

(a) to carry out any conduct, including the provision of services or facilities, for the purpose of—

(i) facilitating anything done by an intelligence service under any enactment other than this Act, or

(ii) dealing with an emergency (within the meaning of…the Civil Contingencies Act 2004);

(b) to provide services or facilities for the purpose of assisting an intelligence service to carry out its functions more securely or more effectively.”

The Secretary of State issues a notice; once that notice is issued, the requirement on the operator is very broad. To be fair, subsection (4) makes it clear that a national security notice cannot be used to sideline or cut across a warrant or authorisation that is required under the Act, but the clause does make a very wide-ranging power available to the Secretary of State and it seems subject to pretty well no check, balance or safeguard.

The amendments would subject the procedure to the double lock mechanism, to ensure that such a notice would go before a judicial commissioner, who would consider whether it was in the interests of national security and proportionate under subsections (1) and (2). The Joint Committee raised concerns about this issue when it looked at the draft Bill, and in particular how the lack of a definition of national security means that the power granted by the clause is very wide indeed.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs)

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that, in the absence of a definition of national security, it is difficult to foresee the kinds of activity or intrusion that obligations under the clause could entail? Is it not therefore providing a blank cheque power to the Government?

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

I agree. This is one of the rare occasions on which the Bill does not set out the procedure for what happens before the Secretary of State considers the exercise of her function. In other areas, we have seen particular requirements for what must be set out in the application and in the warrant—there is a bit more detail. Here, the notice procedure does not include any details of the formalities of the Secretary of State’s consideration or what must be set out in a notice; nor does the Bill provide any safeguard through the judicial commissioners, so not having a definition of national security means that the power is extremely wide and unchecked.

My amendments go only to the process and not to the substance of clause 216, but if they were made, at least a separate pair of eyes would look at the notice and consider whether the test of necessity and proportionality was met. That in itself would be an important safeguard in keeping with the model that runs through the Bill.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General 4:45 pm, 3rd May 2016

It is a pleasure to serve again under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I have listened carefully to what the hon. and learned Gentleman and others have said about their concerns regarding the provisions, but may I reassure him and put to bed the notion that somehow this is a back door or a blank cheque to allow the authorities to do what they like when it comes to interference with the privacy of individuals? Far from it. I will explain as far as I can the purpose of the type of warrantry, particularly the national security notice, that we are talking about, and indeed the technical proficiency provisions as well.

An example of the type of support that might be required would be the provision of services or facilities to help the intelligence agencies in safeguarding the security of their personnel and operations. A notice might typically require a communications service provider to provide services to support secure communications by the security and intelligence agencies—for example, by arranging for a communication to travel via a particular route in order to improve security. A notice may additionally require the confidential provision of services to the security and intelligence agencies within the communications service providers, such as by maintaining a pool of trusted staff for the management and maintenance of sensitive communications services. I hope that gives the hon. and learned Gentleman some insight into what we are talking about here.

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

I am grateful for that indication, but I am not sure why that is an argument for not subjecting what could be a wide-ranging power to the double-lock mechanism, which has been the preferred safeguard for such powers in the Bill.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

There are clear reasons for not going down that route. We are talking about the preparatory stage as opposed to the stage of interference with privacy. If the Government’s position was that there was a loophole—a gateway—to allow such interference, the hon. and learned Gentleman’s argument would have real strength, but that is far from the case. This is all about the preparatory stages—the necessary stages that need to be taken by communications service providers before we get to the application for what we all accept is an intrusion.

I am afraid I cannot share with hon. Members their analysis that we need a “now and forever” definition of national security in law. There is a good reason why national security is not defined in statute. Any attempt to define it in the Bill runs a real risk of restricting the ability of this country to respond to constantly evolving and unpredictable threats. It is vital that legislation does not, however unintentionally, constrain the ability of our security and intelligence agencies to protect this country. The examples are all around us: who would have imagined a few years ago cyber-attacks of the nature and on the scale that now threaten us? My concern is that if we try to rigidly define what we mean by national security, we run the risk of defeating the means by which we can keep this country safe.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs)

I hear what the Solicitor General says about the measure only facilitating preparatory steps, but under the terms of clause 218(8) we will never know whether the notices exist or their contents, so we will not be able to know whether we are dealing with preparatory steps or whether they could go beyond that.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

I have gone as far as I can to explain the types of scenarios that the national security notices would be used for. In essence, they deal with the nuts and bolts rather than the intrusion. If somehow there was a gateway into intrusion, the hon. and learned Lady would be absolutely right, but I assure her that there is not, so the worries that she and other people and organisations have about a blank cheque, while understandable, are unfounded. I can assure her in Committee and I am happy to continue to make the assurance that the function of this type of notice is not intrusion.

Indeed, we have oversight because national security notices will be overseen by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. The commissioner will have a duty to report at least once a year on what he or she has found and to make recommendations on where improvements can be made. The commissioner will also have the power to report on an ad hoc basis on any issue that he or she considers appropriate.

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

I am listening carefully to the Solicitor General. He says that the notices are not a gateway for preparatory steps to become steps that invade privacy, but where in the Bill is the provision that prevents that happening? The only restriction is subsection (4), which does not achieve that end.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

With respect, I do not think that is necessary because any agency that sought to use this type of notice in order to get around the double-lock provisions in the Bill would soon come a cropper with the commissioner. That important oversight means that organisations are not operating in a vacuum; they will be held to account if they try to misuse these notices in the way that the hon. and learned Gentleman and others fear.

As I have said, we have the powers of review by the IPC. We also have the provision, pursuant to clause 220(5)(b) and (7), that the Secretary of State must consult the commissioner if a notice is reviewed, and the commissioner will then consider the proportionality of the matter before reporting conclusions to the Secretary of State. We have the checks and balances that the hon. and learned Gentleman rightly wants within the mechanism.

On amendments 853 and 854, I would say this: the role of the Secretary of State in issuing national security notices rightly reflects the responsibility of the Executive in protecting our national security; conversely, the role of the judicial commissioner in approving the issuing of warrants under the Bill reflects the particular and proper sensitivity regarding interference with private communications. We have got the double lock in place to ensure that, before the fact, a senior judge has to be satisfied that any interference with privacy is justified. The Bill explicitly prohibits—this is an important point—the issuing of national security notices for the primary purpose of obtaining private information, and the double lock then applies to the use of the most sensitive powers. We need to focus on the need for the double lock in relation to applications that result in the acquisition of private information. These types of notices do not permit the authorities to do that, so the amendments are unnecessary.

Amendments 845 and 855 deal with technical capability notices. Clause 217 builds on the current power provided for under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, where a company can be obliged to maintain a permanent interception capability in order to ensure that when a warrant is served, a company has the infrastructure in place to give effect to it securely and quickly. Again, any warrant served will have been reviewed by a judicial commissioner; he or she will play an important part in overseeing the operation of technical capability notices and any appeal that may be lodged against them. The commissioner will also be consulted about the making of regulations that will provide more detail about the operation of these types of notices, and those regulations will be put before Parliament for approval. Plenty of the checks and balances that the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras, others interested in Bill and I would expect and want to see are here.

I am not persuaded of the need for amendments 852 and 859, because clause 220 already sets out the role of the IPC in the process of review and the actions that the Secretary of State must take in that process. The IPC will be integral to any review, because the Secretary of State must consult the commissioner, who will then consider whether the notice is proportionate. Inevitably, considerable weight will be afforded to the advice of the commissioner. The role of the commissioner provides an opportunity for the person on whom the notice has been served and for the Secretary of State to present evidence. The conclusions of the commissioner will be reported to the Secretary of State and to the person who has made the reference. After consideration of the conclusions, the Secretary of State may decide to confirm the effect of the notice, to change or vary it, or to withdraw it. Until that decision is made, there is no requirement for the person who has referred the notice to comply with the specific obligations under review.

In a nutshell, there are plenty of adequate safeguards to alleviate the concerns expressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman. I urge him to withdraw his amendments.

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

I listened carefully to the Solicitor General, and I am grateful to him for setting out how he envisages the notices operating. The difficulty is that there is a mismatch between what he says is their intended operation, and the safeguards in the clause. For me, subsection (4) does not do what he contends it does.

I am also concerned about clause 217. We will get on to that in more detail in a moment, but it is a wide-ranging clause on the maintenance of technical capability, which again ought to be subject to the double lock.

I apologise to the Committee, but on this occasion I will press the amendments in the group to a vote. In the past, in relation to a number of clauses, I have tested the Committee on the first one, but on this occasion I am not sure that I can do that. I think this will be the only occasion on which I will test the patience of the Committee, but clauses 216 and 217 are conceptually different and do not seem to be run as a group. I am afraid that I will press for a vote—as I say, I will not make a habit of it, and I have not done so before.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: 854, in clause 216, page 166, line 41, after “State”, insert “and a Judicial Commissioner”. —(Keir Starmer.)

Amendments 853 and 854 would require judicial authorisation for national security notices. This would also extend the “double lock” standard that is set in other parts of the Bill.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 10, Noes 2.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 216 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 217