Telecommunications definitions

Investigatory Powers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 7:00 pm on 3 May 2016.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs) 7:00, 3 May 2016

I beg to move amendment 869, in clause 223, page 172, line 41, leave out sub-paragraph (i) and insert—

‘(i) is about an entity to which a telecommunications service is provided by that telecommunications operator and relates to the provision of that service,”

This amendment clarifies the definition of communications data, limiting requirements on organisations to be providing data about the services that they supply.

It is a pleasure to welcome you back to the Chair, Mr Owen. This is an amendment to the interpretation clause dealing with telecommunications definitions, in particular subsection (5), which deals with the definition of communications data. The amendment would replace subsection (5)(a)(i) with the purpose of clarifying that the definition of communications data applies to the providers of the relevant telecommunications services, rather than allowing an organisation to be required to provide data about services it does not provide. Without the amendment, the definition of communications data is flawed because it does not tie the data to the provider of the telecommunications service and therefore seems set to encompass third-party data, which I know the Home Office denies is the intent.

The amendment would make two small changes. First, it specifies that the telecommunications service has to be provided by that telecommunications operator—in other words, it avoids pulling in third-party data. Secondly, it specifies that the data relate to the particular service provided and not to a different one. I will be interested to hear what the Solicitor General has to say about this amendment, which seeks to clarify and tighten up the clause.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

It is good to see you back in your place, Mr Owen. I look forward to a fruitful session.

I welcome the hon. and learned Lady’s remarks. We considered these issues in the context of part 4, in particular third-party data. I do not want to rehearse the arguments about why we consider the code of practice to be the appropriate place to enforce the commitment made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the Floor of the House on Second Reading. However, the Government note the strength of feeling on this issue, as evidenced by the outcome of the vote on an earlier amendment. We have heard that message loud and clear, so we are considering whether we could do more to make the commitment clear. I hope that that gives the hon. and learned Lady some reassurance that we are taking these matters seriously, and I am grateful to her for raising them.

The aim of the amendment appears to be to prevent a public authority from obtaining third-party data and to prevent a communications service provider from being required to retain those data. I am not sure that the amendment achieves that desired outcome. It would remove third-party data from one element but not from all elements of the definition of communications data. I do not think there is any debate about the need to get the definition of communications data right, but it must correctly and logically classify the data held by CSPs or what can be reasonably obtained by them. The principle of communications data is clear; changing the definition so that the classification of data changes depending on which provider holds it would cause a degree of confusion that I am sure the hon. and learned Lady does not intend.

My first argument is that the clause is not the right place to prevent public authorities from obtaining third-party data or to prevent a CSP from being required to retain them. Clause 53(5)(c) makes it clear that a communications data authorisation can provide for the obtaining of third-party data where that is reasonably practicable for the communications service provider. That maintains the existing provision under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Where a CSP holds communications data, whether in relation to its services or those provided by a third party for its business purposes, or where it is able to obtain them, they should be available to the public authorities for the statutory purposes in the Bill. We should not put them out of the reach of law enforcement agencies, based solely upon which company holds the information.

I suspect that the hon. and learned Lady’s intent may be to stop a service provider being forced to comply with an unreasonable requirement relating to third-party data—[Interruption.] I am grateful to her for indicating her assent. I assure her and the Committee that, in my view, the Bill already does that. A provider is required to comply with a request for comms data, including third-party data, only where reasonably practicable for them to do so. There is no need to impose a further restriction on that basis.

I recognise the sensitivities of third-party data, but I am afraid that a blanket restriction on its acquisition is not the way forward. We consider that the Bill and the code of practice strike the right balance. On the basis of my earlier assurances to the hon. and learned Lady about getting the language clear, I invite her to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 223 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 224 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 225