MPs Told Theresa May To Add A Privacy Section To The "Snooper's Charter", So She Changed A Heading

The home secretary says the new version of the investigatory powers bill addresses more than 120 concerns raised by MPs, but privacy groups have said the changes are "not even cosmetic".

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Theresa May on Tuesday formally introduced the investigatory powers bill, a new law governing surveillance by UK police and intelligence agencies that has been dubbed a "snooper's charter" by its critics.

The controversial legislation has been examined by three committees of parliamentarians, who together suggested more than 120 changes, leading more than 100 experts to write an open letter suggesting that the introduction of the new law be delayed.

The Home Office decided to stick with its original timetable, however, and insisted the new bill substantially addressed the numerous detailed changes.

One of the most significant proposed alterations came from the influential intelligence and security committee, which oversees MI5, MI6, and GCHQ and is traditionally seen as being friendly to the agencies.

In its report, the committee said a new section should be introduced to the bill to boost privacy protections.

"Overall, the privacy protections are inconsistent and in our view need

strengthening," it said. "We recommend that an additional Part be included in the new legislation to provide universal privacy protections, not just those that apply to

sensitive professions."

So how did the Home Office respond? Apparently by adding the word "privacy" to a section heading.

The new bill does now contain a section headed "general privacy protections" – but it was quickly noted that it is almost identical to a similarly named "general protections" section in the previous draft and neither consolidates all the privacy safeguards in the bill nor contains substantial changes from the previous draft. Slide the bar in this image to compare the two versions:

Nonetheless, in comments accompanying the new bill, Theresa May said it would "transform the law" on surveillance, "strengthen safeguards", and "introduce world-leading oversight arrangements".

"I am pleased to say that the revised bill ... give[s] effect to the vast majority of the recommendations made by the three committees," she added.

Civil liberties groups, however, were scathing in their assessment, concluding that the bill barely addresses concerns raised during the consultation.

"The intelligence and security committee called for a new chapter consolidating and strengthening privacy in the bill; the Home Office has responded by adding one word in the title of Part 1. It would be shameful to even consider this change cosmetic," said Dr Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International.

"The continued inclusion of powers for bulk interception and bulk equipment interference – hacking by any other name – leaves the right to privacy dangerously undermined and the security of our infrastructure at risk. Despite this, the Home Office stands by its claim that the bill represents 'world-leading' legislation. It is truly world-leading, for all the wrong reasons."

The Open Rights Group, which campaigns for online rights, said it was concerned about the speed at which the legislation was being pushed through.

"The Home Office is treating the British public with contempt if it thinks it's acceptable to rush a bill of this magnitude through Parliament," said executive director Jim Killock. "MPs and peers need sufficient time to consider the fundamental threats to our privacy and security posed by the investigatory powers bill. Many have their minds elsewhere, dealing with important decisions about Europe."

The umbrella group for the UK's technology companies, TechUK, echoed concerns on the pace of the bill, which legislates technology companies on requirements relating to monitoring users, allowing equipment hacking, and in some cases breaking encryption.

"This is a complex bill, with significance for all of us," said deputy CEO Antony Walker. "Parliamentarians must have time necessary to subject it to the 'maximum parliamentary scrutiny' the Home Office has promised.

"As more details emerge, tech companies are urgently seeking to understand what is being asked of them and the implications for their business, their customers and the security of our digital economy."

James Ball is a special correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London. PGP: here

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