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Home Office Criticised Over ‘Flimsy’ Consultation For Investigatory Powers Act

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Longer consultation needed. Open letter slams Home Secretary Amber Rudd for ‘breaching’ Cabinet Office guidelines

An open letter has been published to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd, requesting that she rerun her consultation into new Codes of Practice required under the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA).

The letter, from a group of lawyers, civil liberty groups (including the Open Rights Group), and trade unions, argues that the Home Office is breaching Cabinet Office guidelines over surveillance consultation.

The Code of Practice has over 400 pages of legal text detailing how the IPA powers will be used in practice, but the Home Office only allowed respondents six weeks to give feedback.jimkillock

Short Consultation

This small window to respond seems to differ from Cabinet Office’s guidelines, which say that consultations should “Give enough information to ensure that those consulted understand the issues and can give informed responses.”

The Home Office has also been criticised as the consultation includes just fifteen paragraphs to explain the content of the five documents.

The letter’s signatories are calling for the Cabinet Office to publish more detailed information about the codes, including the changes made since Parliament saw them, followed by a full three months for consultation and to arrange briefings with lawyers, civil society and other interested groups.

“Amber Rudd wants to be trusted with even more powers to remove security at WhatsApp, yet she is running the flimsiest possible consultation process for her existing powers, designed to stop people from understanding whatever she is proposing,” explained Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group.

“She has also failed to explain to Parliament in what way she has changed the Codes from the drafts she showed Parliament,” said Killock. “The changes we have detected include watering down strict obligations given to the agencies to more general guidance, by changing words like ‘must’ to ‘may’.”

“The so-called consultation process on these Codes of Practice raises damning questions about the government’s approach to democratic participation and open and transparent processes,” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

“The Home Office has made it near impossible for any meaningful scrutiny, despite their complexity,” said Hughes. “A rushed-through consultation is no consultation at all. The Home Office must take immediate steps to ensure a consultation process that lives up to its name and supports the meaningful participation of civil society.”

Controversial Legislation

The future of the UK’s Investigatory Powers bill was thrown into doubt at Christmas after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) deemed the data surveillance laws were illegal.

The court condemned the legislation for allowing the indiscriminate collection of electronic communication data from every British citizen, when only the “targeted retention of that data solely for the purpose of fighting serious crime” is permitted.

The Investigatory Powers bill, also known as the Snooper’s Charter, has always been highly controversial.

It was passed by Parliament in June last year, despite being opposed by many technology companies as it requires Internet Service Providers to store the web browsing history of all of their customers for 12 months.

Telecom companies will also have to record the date, time and duration of every call made by their users.

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