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Snoopers Charter gets boost from UK human rights watchdog as opposition continues

News: Committee led by Harriet Harman takes softer stance on Investigatory Powers Bill than other critics.

By Alexander Sword

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has struck a conciliatory note on the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill (IP Bill) in a new report, claiming that bulk data collection is not incompatible with the right to privacy.

The committee, chaired by former acting Labour leader Harriet Harman, welcomed the introduction of a formal bill as a "significant step forward in human rights terms" as it would provide a clear legal basis for the powers that are already used.

It said that in many respects the Bill provided "enhanced safeguards".

Crucially, the committee did not believe that the bulk collection powers were "inherently compatible" with the right to respect for private life. The Report said that the powers could be justified if there was a sufficiently clear legal basis, if they were necessary and proportionate and safeguarded against arbitrariness.

There were some specific criticisms of the Bill made in the Report. The committee argued that the wording of clauses concerned the subject matter of targeted interception and targeted equipment interference were too broad.

The committee also questioned the power to make modifications to warrants for targeted interception without judicial approval was too wide.

They also questioned whether the safeguards for lawyer-client confidentiality in the Bill were sufficiently robust, and expressed concern that safeguards for journalists’ sources were not strong enough.

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The Home Office welcomed the Report, which is a boost for the moral authority of the Bill.

The IP Bill, sometimes labelled with the derogatory term ‘Snoopers Charter’, is intended to provide the UK Government with new abilities to legally conduct surveillance on citizens, including tracking online activity. The Government claims that the new powers will help it prevent terrorist attacks.

Home Secretary Theresa May plans to get the act into law by the end of 2016, in order to replace existing laws before they expire. It will be the first comprehensive legal framework for state surveillance in the world.

Theresa May recently agreed to a review on the proposed bill, which will be led by the government’s reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation, David Anderson.

Labour, which had previously abstained from voting on the second reading of the bill on 15 March, welcomed the review. Labour had also successfully pushed May to promise that the powers would not be used to spy on trade unions.

Overall the Bill has attracted significant criticism, including from the Intelligence and Security Committee, particularly over a lack of clarity in the definitions included in the text.

Many commercial organisations such as Google and Apple have opposed the legislation, as has the Liberal Democrat party.

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