Clause 1 - Requirement for authorisation

Part of Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 7 March 2024.

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Having read those Hansard reports a couple of days ago, I accept that some of the concerns expressed in 2016 were overblown, as are some of the concerns expressed about this Bill. Frankly, if the accusations regarding what our security services are able to do were true, they would be 10 times, if not 100 times bigger than the actual security services we have today. Nevertheless, it is important in a democracy to ensure that the security services act proportionately—I am confident that they do—and that there is the necessary oversight of their actions and how they deal with the data they have. It is not just parliamentarians who need reassurance in that regard, but the public. The public need reassurance about the data that the state is holding.

Examples have been given, but frankly, they are a bit silly, because things such as the electoral register, which you, Mrs Cummins, I and everybody else can access, fall under the existing regime. The expectation that the data will not be made public is ridiculous, and the same is true of some of the other examples that have been given. For instance, some datasets for machine learning are open on the internet for everybody to see. I do not have any problem with that and I do not think that anybody else does.

Oversight, which we will discuss later, is important. We are giving the security services the powers to determine what is low and what is no. Do I trust that they will have the protocols in place to ensure that that process is done fairly? Yes I do, but I have been on the Intelligence and Security Committee for the last seven years; I know exactly how the protocols work internally in those organisations. To reassure the general public, we need a definition of how this process will take place. I will not touch on that now, but later I will raise the question of how we will have independent oversight of that process.

Neither I nor anyone else is saying that we distrust how the security services will handle those datasets, but one thing the ISC has been very clear on is that if we are going to extend the security services’ powers, there needs to be a corresponding extension of oversight to balance that. I do not want to put in place oversight that prevents operational effectiveness; it would be silly to give the security services powers and then make it impossible or too onerous for them to operate in practice, but striking a balance is important in a democracy.

We broadly got that balance right in the 2016 Act. Looking at international comparisons, we are way ahead of many other democracies in how we deal with oversight of those potentially very delicate issues.