On 4 November an Investigatory Powers Bill (‘Bill’) which could overhaul internet surveillance in the UK was introduced to the House of Commons.

If enacted, the Bill will allow security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to access the metadata (i.e. the who, what, when and where) of every UK citizen’s internet use. The Bill also grants investigatory powers to governmental agencies, including the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Information Commissioner.

Its predecessor, known by some as the ‘Snooper’s Charter’, was criticised for being overly intrusive with proposals for a ban on encryption and the requirement to retain third party data. Today, the 299-page Bill has been watered down to some extent, but privacy concerns remain.

So, what does the new Bill provide?

  • Communications service providers, e.g. mobile phone operators and broadband providers, would be required to keep “Internet Connection Records” (ICRs), i.e. records of the websites and instant message apps used, for up to a year.
  • Security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies would be able to access ICRs, including specific pages within a website, providing they had a warrant.
  • Service providers would be under an explicit obligation to help intercept data and hack suspects’ devices if there was a warrant and it was “reasonably practical”. They would also be allowed to perform “equipment interference”, that is, take over computers and smartphones to access data.
  • Security agencies would be permitted to carry out bulk interception of communication data.
  • Abuse of power would be prevented through a ‘double lock’ safeguard; permission to intercept communications would need to be requested from the home secretary, and if granted, would be subject to veto by a panel of judges. In “urgent” cases the interception could happen without the judges’ consent.

Over the next few months consultations will take place, with a revised Bill expected to be put before Parliament in Spring 2016. However, we could be seeing the Bill in force sooner, given the Prime Minister’s loud calls for implementation following the recent tragedies in Paris. It also remains to be seen what impact, if any, the Bill will have on non-UK companies.