Investigatory Powers query

by Mark Rowe

The Investigatory Powers Bill risks undermining the UK’s strongly performing Tech sector because of uncertainty about the costs of compliance, say MPs.

The Science and Technology Committee has called on the Government not to place UK businesses at a relative commercial disadvantage to overseas competitors by the proposed measures. Thee MPs asked that the costs of extra data storing measures in the draft Bill be fully met by Government.

Nicola Blackwood, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said: “It is vital we get the balance right between protecting our security and the health of our economy. We need our security services to be able to do their job and prevent terrorism, but as legislators we need to be careful not to inadvertently disadvantage the UK’s rapidly growing Tech sector. The current lack of clarity within the draft Investigatory Powers Bill is causing concern amongst businesses. There are widespread doubts over the definition, not to mention the definability, of a number of the terms used in the draft Bill. The Government must urgently review the legislation so that the obligations on the industry are clear and proportionate.

“There remain questions about the feasibility of collecting and storing Internet Connection Records (ICRs), including concerns about ensuring security for the records from hackers. The Bill was intended to provide clarity to the industry, but the current draft contains very broad and ambiguous definitions of ICRs, which are confusing communications providers. This must be put right for the Bill to achieve its stated security goals.”


According to the committee, there is confusion about how the draft Bill would affect end-to-end encrypted communications, where decryption might not be possible by a communications provider that had not added the original encryption. Nicola Blackwood said: “Encryption is important in providing the secure services on the internet we all rely on, from credit card transactions and commerce to legal or medical communications. It is essential that the integrity and security of legitimate online transactions is maintained if we are to trust in, and benefit from, the opportunities of an increasingly digital economy. The government needs to do more to allay unfounded concerns that encryption will no longer be possible.”


Antony Walker, deputy CEO of trade body techUK commented: “There are several important recommendations in this report that we urge the Home Office to take on board. In particular we need more clarity on fundamental issues, such as core definitions, encryption and equipment interference. These are all issues that we highlighted to the Committee and can be addressed both in the Bill and in the Codes of Practice which we believe must be published alongside the Bill, and regularly updated, as recommended by the Committee. 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.

“The draft Bill presents an opportunity for the UK government to develop a world leading legal framework that balances the security needs with democratic values and protects the health of our growing digital economy. But we have to get the details right.”

For more about techUK’s work on the Investigatory Powers Bill:

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