The average age of the House of Lords is about 70 years old. Yet it has been left up to us to scrutinise, amend and improve the highly technical and technological Investigatory Powers Bill after its easy ride through the House of Commons.
Today, in the Bill’s Second Reading, I urged peers from all sides to not shy away from the technical nature of the Bill and to tackle the issues it raises head on and with gusto. Fundamentally this Bill will govern what powers our security services and law enforcement agencies have, under what circumstances they will be allowed to use them and how the use of these powers will be overseen. In all of this there is a balancing act to be done – it is the responsibility of the police and the security services to ask Government for the powers they believe they need in order to be effective and it is the responsibility of Parliament to balance those requests against the tests of necessity and proportionality.
To take an example, when the then Labour government pressed the case put forward by the police for 90 days detention of terrorist suspects without charge, parliament refused. It judged it to be disproportionate and unnecessary. Today and in the weeks and months to come as the Bill makes its way through the House of Lords it is this question that we must stop and ask ourselves again and again. Is it necessary and is it proportionate?
Following the Snowden revelations this Bill must command public confidence if it is to be respected and upheld on becoming an Act. This means that there must be robust and rigorous debate and Parliament should be given the information it needs to make a decision based on facts not fear (where have we heard that before?). That is why I am glad that David Anderson has been tasked with looking at the operational case for bulk powers which I am sure both Houses of Parliament will examine carefully once published.
Today in my speech I set out the priorities for the Liberal Democrats, priorities I hope that the Labour party and those from other benches will agree with and support. At the top of the list is Internet Connection Records. This requires internet service providers to record every website everyone in the UK visits, store the data for 12 months and reveal them to the police without a warrant if they suspect someone of a crime. This is a huge intrusion into privacy and is simply unnecessary. The security services have already said they don’t need to record everyone’s web history to do their job and the police can ask GCHQ to help in serious cases. Surely the police would rather the £1bn that is likely to be spent on ICRs in set up costs alone be spent on community policing at a more local level? It seems ludicrous to me that a time when the public spending pie is forever shrinking the Home Office seem to be considering spending vast sums on tools that may not even work – Denmark have just abandoned their equivalent of ICRs.
We will also argue for the Secretary of State to be removed from the issuing of interception warrants that have no national security or politically sensitive implications and a true double lock for those that do engage those issues. We will seek more robust oversight mechanisms and the separation of the authorisation and audit functions within the oversight body. We will seek more information about the request filter – which appears to be a one-stop shop for law enforcement to access all the available government databases holding information on individuals and seek to insert the tests of necessity and proportionality into every part of the Bill.
It will not be an easy fight but I hope that with reason and rationality on our side we will make significant improvements to this otherwise unnecessarily invasive Bill and give the House of Commons another chance to get it right.
* Brian Paddick Is Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Home Affairs. He was Deputy Assistant Commissioner in London's Metropolitan Police Service until 2007, the Lib Dem candidate for the London mayoral election in 2008 and 2012, and a life peer since 2013.