Labour's shadow home secretary Diane Abbott says that wider society must now debate the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill, despite Parliamentary approval. Added to that are claims from the government that these new, fairly draconian measures contained in the bill are necessary for national security. So it is no surprise that so many members of Parliament are willing to lend their support.
The IP Bill now looks set to become law. It was introduced with cross-party support and, despite the objections of many stakeholders, will be adopted in that fashion. It is not just civil liberties’ organisations that have objected. Trade unions have too, especially the National Union of Journalists, along with the Society of Editors and many tech companies large and small.
All of their objections are important in themselves, but they are also related. In effect, the legislation allows the mass trawl of internet data and other records merely on the basis of suspicion of any crime, not just serious or terrorist crime.
A large number of public agencies will then be able to handle and to pass on that data, without either the internet service provider (ISP) or the target being informed. At the same time, all voluntary organisations will be obliged to keep an “open door” for the security agencies, police and others to access their systems. As we know, this is too often an open door to the hackers as well. Either you have encryption, or you don’t.
This systematic transfer of powers to state bodies could have a wide-ranging commercial impact too. All companies handling data in the UK are only allowed to operate in the EU courtesy of a “data passport”, which recognises the equivalence of data protection regimes throughout the EU. But given the sweeping powers allowed in the IP Bill, many firms are concerned that the data passport would be withdrawn.
At that point, some very difficult choices will be faced by everyone from small internet startups to some of the giant global internet firms that have been established here. They may lose substantial business in the EU, or may choose to relocate here. In either event, jobs here could be under threat.
It is not clear that colleagues who have allowed these measures to go through, almost on the nod, fully understand these consequences of the IP Bill.
But that may not be the end of the matter. The IP Bill has a less draconian predecessor, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (Dripa), which has been subject to legal challenge at the European Court of Justice (ECJ). It has not been used in a high-tech operation to target criminal masterminds and terrorist networks. There were well over half a million requests for data in 2014 alone.