During the last parliamentary stage of the Investigatory Powers Bill the SNP expressed grave concerns and committed to working towards amending it. We said that if it was not amended satisfactorily we would vote it down at a later stage. As the Bill reaches it’s final parliamentary hurdle tomorrow, It appears that stage has now been reached.
There are parts of this Bill which we want to support because they are necessary for law enforcement across the UK and to replace some powers already in force in Scotland. We also think that the attempt to bring together a number of laws into one piece of modern legislation is a good thing.
However, we are very concerned that some of the powers in the Bill go against decisions of the highest courts in Europe on issues such as privacy and human rights. They also go much further than the powers available in other Western democracies, other countries do not feel the need for such intrusion to enforce the law and prevent terrorism.
The powers to keep your internet browsing history and get bulk data, which have been criticised by the UN, both fall into these categories.
We believe that the power to keep your internet records should be removed from the Bill. What is proposed is unacceptably intrusive and practically unworkable.
In response to pressure from the SNP and others, the UK Government has agreed to review the operational necessity of bulk powers. This is welcome but the SNP do not think that bulk powers should be in the Bill until a convincing case has been made for them. We doubt whether this can be done, given the experience of bulk powers in the USA which led to a recognition that, as well as being extremely intrusive, they didn’t work.
We will also try to change the Bill to improve oversight from courts, to better protect people who communicate with journalists, lawyers or parliamentarians, to tighten up hacking powers that are too wide and to improve transparency.
The SNP believe that law enforcement and the intelligence and security services should have necessary and proportionate powers to fight serious crime and terrorism. However, we also believe that, in order to protect civil liberties, surveillance should be targeted, with warrants from courts that ensure they are focused, specific and based on reasonable suspicion. Oversight and safeguards should also be strong and independent of government.
In committee the SNP tabled numerous amendments to try to achieve these principles as a thread running throughout the Bill and to remove those parts which were unjustifiable.
Not one was accepted.
Last week I wrote to the Home Secretary listing what would need to be done before the SNP could even contemplate giving this Bill our support. I have yet to receive a reply.
It remains to be seen what sort of a response our amendments will receive from the Tory government. We are clear that unless significant amendment has been made to the Bill the SNP cannot support it.
Joanna Cherry QC is MP for Edinburgh South West and SNP spokesperson on Justice and Home Affairs.