Clause 18 - Review of notices by the Secretary of State

Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 7 March 2024.

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

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Labour, Bradford South

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 19 stand part.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The notice review mechanism is an important safeguard. If operators are dissatisfied with a notice that they are given, or with any part of it, they have a statutory right to refer it to the Secretary of State for a review. Clause 18 is essential to ensure that operators do not make any technical changes during the review period that would have a negative impact on existing lawful access capabilities.

Operators will not be required to make changes to specifically comply with the notice. However, they will be required to maintain the status quo. If there was lawful access at the point at which a notice was given, access to data must be maintained by the operator while the notice is being comprehensively reviewed. This will ensure that law enforcement and intelligence agencies continue to have access to vital data during that period in order to keep people safe.

To be clear, companies can continue to make technical changes or roll out new services during the review period, so long as lawful access remains unaffected. The status quo will apply only to services or systems specified within the notice; anything outside the scope of the notice will be unaffected. If, at the conclusion of a review, the Secretary of State confirms the effect or varies the notice, maintaining the status quo will be vital to ensure that law enforcement and intelligence communities do not lose access to data during the review period that they would otherwise have been able lawfully to obtain. In the Lords, the Government amended the Bill to introduce a timeline for the review of a notice.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

I will be very brief. I am grateful for the Minister’s remarks, but I want to raise the concerns of some telecommunications operators and of organisations representing the sector about clauses 18 and 19. These include a view that the role of the proposed new notices regime would hinder and even veto product development.

I know that the Minister and his Department have engaged with stakeholders about those concerns, as have Labour Members. I would be grateful if the Minister briefly set out whether recent engagement has taken place with stakeholders with regard to these matters, and whether he has any further plans to address the concerns that they have expressed about clauses 18 and 19.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Scottish National Party, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

I want to make a similar case. We are now getting into territory where I struggle to understand exactly what is going on, because I am not a tech geek. We are speeding past this measure almost as if it were inconsequential, but the language in some of the briefings that we have received about it is pretty dramatic.

The bundle that was emailed to Committee members this morning includes evidence from Apple that I think needs to be addressed:

“At present, the SoS must navigate important oversight mechanisms before they can block the offering of a new product or service they believe will impact…ability to access private user data.”

Apple summarises the suite of clauses that the Committee is considering, including the requirement in clause 18 to maintain the status quo during the review process, as allowing the Secretary of State

“to block, in secret, the release of a product or service even before the legality of a Technical Capability Notice can be reviewed by independent oversight bodies. The effect of this amendment will be to, extraordinarily, hand the SoS the power to block new products or services prior to their legality being ascertained. This result upends the balance of authority and independent oversight Parliament struck in the IPA.”

Given the new definition of “telecommunications operator” in clause 19, Apple has also warned that there will be serious implications for conflicts with other laws, including the EU GDPR and with US legislation.

As well as Apple, we have heard from various other organisations. TechUK has highlighted problems with broadening the definition of “telecommunications provider” before control of provision of a telecoms service, including to UK users, is established overseas. It also highlights the potential conflict of laws. What if the domestic law in the country in which a company is based does not allow for compliance with the notice that the Home Secretary has delivered? That company might not even be able to raise the issue of a conflict of laws, because it would be sworn to secrecy under the Bill.

According to TechUK, the proposed changes mark a departure in the way that the UK approaches the extraterritorial reach of the UK or UK laws and the consequential conflicts of laws. That was all recognised in the 2016 Act, in which a partial solution was found in the form of a UK-US agreement. Currently, however, the Government have not set out any plans to work towards equivalent solutions.

In relation to clause 21, I will raise similar concerns from other experts, but it is clear that some very serious companies and organisations have significant concerns about what the combination of these notices may end up delivering. Those concerns need addressed.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I thank hon. Members for the spirit in which they have engaged. To be clear, it is absolutely right that we listen to representations from companies around the world, as I am absolutely sure all Members across the House would expect. We are still engaged in conversations: the Home Secretary was on the west coast of the United States only last week, I think, and I maintain regular communication with many different companies, including many of the same companies to which the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East referred.

Let me be quite clear about one aspect. There is a real challenge here, and it is absolutely worth getting to the heart of it. The way in which communications data has evolved means that there are now jurisdictions in which the UK cannot protect its citizens without the co-operation of certain companies overseas. That was always bound to happen to a certain degree, but it is now very much the case: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has children, but he will know that many children use tablets and internet-connected devices in their bedroom.

The reach of these companies into the personal life of children in our country has to be a matter of concern to the British Government—it just has to be. The question is who governs these spaces. Are they governed by the association agreements and terms and conditions of the companies, or are they governed by the laws of the United Kingdom passed by Members of this House, of whichever party? That is the fundamental question.

The jurisdiction of this House must be sovereign. If sovereignty is to mean anything, it must mean the ability to protect our children from serious harm. That is basic. Under the IPA and previous legislation going back to the 1980s, this House has always exercised a certain element of influence. Yes, the Bill is extraterritorial, but so are many other Bills that this House passes in relation to the protection of our citizens and our interests. We can have operational reach further than the UK border in order to protect our citizens. That is what we are doing here, and that is what makes it proportional.

It is true that there are conflicts of interest that we have to resolve. I must be honest with the hon. Gentleman: this has come up before. It has even come up in my time. It is something that we have to look at in order to ensure that we address those conflicts and see where the balance of proportionality lies.

It is our very good fortune that many of the conflicts arise between jurisdictions with which we are extremely close. The United States, for example, is an extremely close ally. We regularly—in fact, I regularly—have conversations with the US Justice Department and others to make sure that we manage those conflicts of interest in the best interests of all our citizens. It is unusual for us not to find a resolution, but there are means of dispute resolution when we do not. Although I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, it is not exceptional for companies rightly and understandably to defend their interests where they feel that they have a commercial advantage. That is, of course, reasonable.

The reality is that we are not stopping companies doing anything; we are asking them not to change our ability to protect our citizens, until we have found a fix. If they want to introduce a new product or service or change the way they operate, that is fine: it is nothing to do with us. All we ask is that they maintain our ability to protect our citizens during that translation and into the future.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Scottish National Party, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

I will come on later to another line of argument that relates to the unintended consequences of these permissions, but for now I have a specific question. The Minister has spoken about how conflicts of law can be resolved. Is there not an added complication? If we put a notification notice—if we are calling it that—on a company, it cannot share the fact of that notification with anybody at all. Does that not make it well-nigh impossible to resolve the issue with conflicts of law?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

Without going into details that it would be inappropriate to share: no, it does not. I can assure the hon. Member that this is a long-standing practice that has been tested, and it does operate.

On clause 19, I wish to put one further point on the record. The clause will amend the definition of a telecommunications operator, out of an abundance of caution, to ensure that the IPA continues to apply to those to whom it was intended to apply, building on the work that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings has laid out. There are circumstances in which a telecommunications system that is used to provide a telecommunications service to persons in the United Kingdom is not itself controlled from the United Kingdom; we have talked about some of those services. The clause will ensure that multinational companies are covered in their totality in the context of the IPA, rather than just specific entities.

Clause 19 does not seek to bring additional companies within the scope of the definition, nor does it seek to constrain how a company structures itself. It is a clarificatory amendment that will improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the regime and the process of giving notices.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 18 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.