Clause 18 - Review of notices by the Secretary of State

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

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Scottish National Party, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East 3:15, 7 March 2024

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.