Greetings from Brussels!
The proposed U.K. spying law, aka the Snooper’s Charter, is again the subject of controversy. According to the Intelligence and Security Committee of the Parliament, one of several bodies scrutinizing the proposed bill, the law doesn’t offer enough privacy protection and gives intelligence agencies too much bulk access to personal information.
In a fairly damning comment on Tuesday, the committee stated that the current draft appeared to have suffered from a "lack of sufficient time and preparation," with the bill being poorly drafted in parts. In an official report published on Tuesday, the Committee highlighted specific areas of concern stating there was an "inconsistent and largely incomprehensible" approach to rules governing the use of communications data. The report also raised concerns about some of the more contentious powers, such as mass collection of data, and failure to provide adequate privacy protections.
The committee’s chairman, Dominic Grieve, who reaffirmed support of the authorities’ investigatory powers in Internet and phone communications, said the draft bill failed to provide "the clarity that is badly needed" and was "a missed opportunity" to provide the comprehensive legal framework needed to regulate U.K. surveillance in a post-Snowden world. His committee recommended the government redraft the bill to include stand-alone privacy safeguards, which could then form the backbone of the new law.
Parliamentary committees and activists are not the only folks rumbling about the proposed bill. Digital firms are also determined to have their voice heard; Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have also spoken in one voice on this matter through the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, expressing concern that the bill could force tech companies to weaken their encryption. Their primary concern — and justifiably so you may say — is the potential loss of user and consumer trust. Companies are equally concerned that other European states might try for similar snooping obligations being imposed. Their position can be read here.
A similar report released earlier this month by the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee also warned that the "cost of the investigatory powers bill could undermine the U.K. tech sector." In tandem with that particular report, Tech industry group Tech U.K. said: “We need more clarity on fundamental issues, such as core definitions, encryption and ‘equipment interference’ (a euphemism for government-sanctioned hacking). Without that additional detail, too much of the bill will be open to interpretation, which undermines trust in both the legislation and the reputation of companies that have to comply with it."
All in all, there is widespread concern as to whether the issues raised by the different committees can be resolved in a relatively short timeframe. The discussions will continue, with the legislation scheduled to be voted on later this year. Some form of the bill must be passed by the end of this year to replace an expiring data retention act. That said, there is too much at stake for the U.K. government to rush this law past the posts; it would appear the bill requires much needed work to pass muster.
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