Investigatory Powers Bill may not survive

The Investigatory Powers Bill is likely to become law. Its powers are far too widely drawn and there are very few safeguards against the mass collection of data by a host of different government agencies, simply acting on suspicion of any crime, not even limited to terrorist or serious crime.

There are too a host of problems relating lack of protections for whistle blowers and journalistic sources, as well as having potentially serious commercial effects on all data-handling companies and internet-based firms, including both start-ups and some of the global giants in the field. Yet the Bill has been through the Parliamentary process and seems certain to achieve Royal Assent. 

When the Bill was first mooted the world was different, including the old Tory leadership under David Cameron as well as a very different Labour leadership. But it was blessed at the outset with cross-party support.

This new Labour leadership has for decades been concerned about questions of civil liberties. Jeremy Corbyn has an impeccable record on standing up for civil liberties one of the key reasons I was delighted to be able to serve as his Shadow Home Secretary to continue the fight for the rights of all citizens.

But there has always been a debate within Labour, and in wider society about balancing those citizens’ rights versus the duty to protect the entire population from serious crime, violent crime and terrorism. This is a perfectly legitimate debate as these are very serious issues. This is no opprobrium attached to colleagues who take, and who have consistently taken, a very different view from my own on how these two competing principles must be balanced. And quite legitimately too Labour policy was set in favour of the Investigatory Powers Bill. But it is not a Bill that the Labour party under this leadership would have drafted.

This however is not the end of the matter for the Investigatory Powers Bill. Its less draconian predecessor, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act is under serious threat from the European Court of Justice, where an interim ruling suggests that large sections of it may be struck down. There is too the possibility that the new Bill could be subject to Judicial Review shortly after it becomes law.  The IP Bill may not survive for very long.

It would be unfortunate if the government’s prized legislation withers rapidly on the vine. It would indicate that it is draconian in its implications and practically unworkable, just as its critics suggest. We may then have to return to this area, but now bearing in mind that there are proper constraints on the state and its power over all of us.

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