More calls for privacy safeguards in UK surveillance legislation

The official opposition Labour party in the UK has again called on the government to make changes to draft surveillance legislation to improve privacy safeguards.

The government is aiming to have the Investigatory Powers Bill (IP Bill), currently before parliament, on the statute books before the end of the year — giving the Labour party a stronger hand to push for amendments than it might if the government was in less of a rush to drive the bill through parliament.

Writing a letter to the Home Secretary today, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham, reiterated calls he made last month for a series of changes to the legislation, saying that in Labour’s view the current draft is “still some way” from achieving what be dubbed an “essential balance” between expanded security service capabilities and safeguards to public data.

Among the changes Burnham is calling for are a tighter definition of ‘Internet Connection Records’ (aka the log of websites accessed by users which ISPs will be required to retain for 12 months), plus greater limits on what ICR data can be used for and the public bodies that can access it; and an independent assessment of the case for bulk powers (aka mass surveillance powers such as mass hacking warrants).

On the bulk powers point, Burnham adds:  “I would be open to a discussion about the various forms this independent review could take but it is imperative that we get it up and running. I will consider carefully the nature and extent of the bulk powers in this Bill in light of the review.”

The Labour party abstained from voting on the IP bill at the second reading in parliament, rather than actively voting against it — thereby enabling it to move to the next stage of legislative scrutiny without any major opposition. But there’s a more explicit threat of disruption to the government’s plans if Labour’s calls for changes are not heeded.

“If I determine that our concerns are not satisfactorily dealt with during the passage of the Bill, then we will be unable to support a timetable that puts the Bill on the Statute Book by December this year,” Burnham added.

Despite stating concerns for privacy — and calling for the bill to include “a presumption of people’s right to privacy” — Labour is nonetheless apparently quietly accepting of the idea of the systematic state logging of all websites accessed by UK web users for a full year. Aka ICRs.

And while Burnham writes of ICRs being a “powerful new capability”, he does not query the proportionality of the capability, nor the security risks posed by requiring ISPs store such a honeypot of data on a rolling yearly basis — merely calling for ICRs to be more tightly defined and access to them controlled.

And leaving others outside government to express concerns on this…