The UK Government’s draft investigatory powers bill has been criticised by yet another committee of senior MPs.

The fresh criticism of the draft bill, dubbed the Snoopers Charter 2.0, comes after the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee last week concluded that the draft bill was too vague in its provisions and would require detailed codes of practice in order to ensure it doesn’t prove a disastrous burden on the nation’s IT industry.

Rethink Needed

Now the Joint Select Committee has published its findings on the draft bill and it makes for more uncomfortable reading for Theresa May.

“The Home Office has further work to do before Parliament can be confident that the scheme has been adequately thought through,” said the committee, referring to the Bill’s provision that would force Internet Service Providers to retain and collect the web surfing habits of all of their customers.

The government has previously said the bill is intended to consolidate and clarify investigatory powers, and that the only substantially new requirement it introduces is for internet service providers to store users’ browsing records, termed internet connection records (ICRs), for 12 months.

“Other concerns were over the provisions in the Bill for bulk powers to intercept, to acquire communications data and to interfere with equipment,” said the committee in its report. “We make a number of other detailed recommendations, including those aimed at ensuring that vital protections for lawyers and journalists are not compromised.”

“In our view, the Bill would also benefit from a post-legislative review by Parliament five years after its enactment,” it said. “We call for provisions for such a review to be included in the Bill.”

Industry Concern

The Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA UK) welcomed the “number of the clear and robust recommendations” on the draft investigatory powers bill. Internet Service providers are very concerned about the potential expense associated with this bill, namely the cost of storing everyone’s ICRs for 12 months.

“This is the third parliamentary report expressing major concerns with the new legislation, it said. It pointed out that the Science and Technology Committee had said the Bill risks undermining the UK’s technology and communications sectors and the Intelligence and Security Committee said the bill does not do enough to protect privacy.

“With these concerns and those expressed by industry, academia and NGOs, the Home Office has a substantial task ahead to meet the serious concerns identified by Parliament,” it said. “It is crucial that sufficient time is now given to allow the legislation to be improved and redrafted.”

“This report adds to the chorus of voices calling for the Home Office to change the legislation so it’s feasible, proportionate and does not harm the UK Internet industry,” said ISPA Chair James Blessing. “ISPA believes a new framework is needed to replace the various outdated laws, but we need further clarity on Internet Connection Records, definitions and costs”.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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