PARLIAMENTARY WATCHDOG SAVAGES SNOOPERS' CHARTER: 'Inconsistent and largely incomprehensible'


david cameron

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British Prime Minister David Cameron departs Number 10 Downing Street on December 2, 2015 in London, England.

A British Parliamentary committee has torn into the UK government's proposed spying bill - dubbed the Snoopers' Charter - calling parts "inconsistent and largely incomprehensible," attacking its lack of privacy protections, and saying the entire bill seems rushed.


"Taken as a whole, the draft Bill fails to deliver the clarity that is so badly needed in this area," the report from the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) published Tuesday morning reads. "The issues under consideration are undoubtedly complex, however it has been evident that even those working on the legislation have not always been clear as to what the provisions are intended to achieve."

It adds: "The draft Bill appears to have suffered from a lack of sufficient time and preparation."

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The ISC is responsible for overseeing British intelligence services, including spy agencies GCHQ, MI5, and MI6.

The Investigatory Powers Bill (IPB) is an attempt from Cameron's Conservative government to modernise the laws about spying and provide law enforcement with appropriate tools for the twenty-first century.


But it has also been coming under heavy criticism. A report released this month by House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, warns that the "cost of [the] investigatory powers bill could undermine [the] UK tech sector."

Announcing the Select Committee's report, Nicola Blackwood, MP of the committee, said in a statement that "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."

These concerns over clarity are echoed by the ISC report. At one point, it says that "the approach towards the examination of Communications Data in the draft Bill is inconsistent and largely incomprehensible."

Another issue raised by the ISC is privacy considerations - and the lack thereof in the bill. The report reads (emphasis ours):

We had expected to find universal privacy protections applied consistently throughout, or at least an overarching statement at the forefront of the legislation. Instead, the draft Bill adopts a rather piecemeal approach, which lacks clarity and undermines the importance of the safeguards associated with these powers. We have therefore recommended that the new legislation contains an entirely new Part dedicated to overarching privacy protections, which should form the backbone of the draft legislation around which the exceptional powers are then built. This will ensure that privacy is an integral part of the legislation rather than an add-on.


Anthony Walker, deputy CEO of UK tech industry body techUK said in a statement: "Today's report from the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) again makes it clear that the bill lacks clarity on fundamental issues, such as core definitions of key terms within the draft Bill, encryption and equipment interference. Our members are unsure exactly what is meant by Internet Connection Records (ICRs), how they will be gathered, stored and accessed. This kind of detail is crucial to understanding the impact of the proposed Bil."

Here's an ISC press release about the report, and here's the full report »

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