Legislation will enshrine security services’ licence to hack, bug and burgle their way across the web – with judicial oversight still to be determined
The key elements of the snooper’s charter, including the bulk collection and storage for 12 months of everyone’s personal data, tracking their use of the web, phones and social media, will remain firmly in place when the government publishes its new investigatory powers bill on Wednesday.
The legislation, to be introduced by the home secretary, Theresa May, will provide the security services with an explicit licence to “snoop on the web” for the first time.
Until the disclosures of the whistleblower Edward Snowden, these powers and mass surveillance programmes remained hidden in the complex undergrowth of the pre-digital age Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa) and other arcane surveillance laws.
The new, comprehensive, surveillance legislation will provide the security services and police with access to personal web and phone data using bulk-collection powers and will also put on a fresh legal footing spies’ mass computer hacking, known as “computer network exploitation”.
This week the Home Office will be launching the new Investigatory Powers Bill. It had previously sought to obtain these powers under the “Snoopers’ Charter” proposals in the last parliament but it failed.
This time the government is sensibly not relying on the brute strength of parliamentary votes or the standard “FUD” tactic of promoting fear, uncertainty and doubt. Such methods of stealth and FUDery may not be sufficient, so something more is needed to get the Bill over the bumps of this first week or two. The Home Office wants your heads to nod along too.
Many people say that the problem with politics is that there is too much cynicism. The problem with UK politics, however, is not that people are too cynical but that they are too gullible. Our politics is beset and bedeviled by the phenomenon of mass nodding along. Just get the catchphrases correct, and you will get all the audience applause you need. The trick is saying the right things at the right time.
So the Home Office has launched a proactive PR campaign, the results of which you will see already in many news titles even before the Bill is published. Journalists have been invited in for high-level background briefing (some have refused). Helpful access is being provided, there is selective leaking and queries promptly answered. If the Home Office could physically hand out trumpets this week to journalists so that the Bill could have a fanfare it would do so.
We are not yet allowed to know what the Bill contains. Not even journalists have been able to see the draft yet. But we are to be reassured through the media that this Bill is a “climb down” (even though it seems that the government has merely chosen not to ask the impossible over encryption). We are to be relieved and reassured by what the media tell us: the Bill is not as extreme as it could be. People naturally tend to like a compromise, so that is what is being sold. Everyone is being encouraged to nod; soon we will not be able to help ourselves.
There are one or two critical voices being added to reports as “balance” somewhere down among the bottom paragraphs of pieces that few will ever read to the end. But these objections will get little traction. Some of the concerns will be repeated in committee or in the House of Lords; and no doubt the government has already anticipated which concessions it will make to get the Bill safely though both houses of the legislature. This whole legislative exercise will have been planned with care, from this week’s preemptive media feeding to the Bill’s enactment.
Plans to grant police and intelligence officers new powers to monitor suspects online will not get through parliament without a requirement for judges to sign off on spying warrants, the former Conservative shadow home secretary David Davis has said.
The backbench MP was speaking before the publication of a draft of the investigatory powers bill, due on Wednesday, with the Home Office so far refusing to indicate whether the proposed legislation will include judicial approval of applications made by the security services to intercept communications.
Speaking on BBC1’s Sunday Politics show, Davis said: “Actually I don’t think this bill will get through either Commons or Lords without judicial authorisation … There’s a new consensus on this right across the board – across the experts, across the spooks, across the parties, across both houses of parliament.”