SNP MPJoanna Cherry QC 

The Investigatory Powers Bill will receive its second reading in Parliament today. 

The SNP will join MPs from all parties who are unable to give it wholehearted support.

Undoubtedly the law needs a thorough overhaul and the attempt to consolidate a number of statutes in order to have a modern and comprehensive law is to be welcomed. 

The security services and the police require adequate powers to fight terrorism and serious crime in the modern digital age. However, such powers must  always be shown to be necessary, proportionate and in accordance with the law.  In particular, they must not impinge unduly on the right to privacy or the security of private data. 

Not all powers in the Bill pass these tests. 

This Bill is a rushed job coming on the back of a draft Bill which did not go far enough to protect civil liberties and lacked clarity. In recent weeks three parliamentary committees expressed serious misgivings about many aspects  of the draft Bill and made extensive recommendations for revisal. 

The Bill was published barely two weeks after the ink was dry on the last of these three reports. Clearly there has been insufficient time for the government to go back to the drawing board and re‐write the draft bill to deal adequately with the concerns expressed. 

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy concluded last week that some of the proposals in the Bill, “fail the benchmarks” set in recent judgements of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. 

These benchmarks provide that surveillance should be targeted, by means of warrants which are focused and specific and based on reasonable suspicion. Yet, under the Bill targeted interception warrant may apply to groups of persons or more than one organisation or premises. Bulk interception warrants lack specificity.

There is no requirement for reasonable suspicion thus giving licence  for speculative surveillance. An actual threat to national security is not required.

The powers to retain Internet Connection records and bulk powers go beyond what is currently authorised in other western democracies and thus could set a dangerous precedent and a bad example internationally.

The only other western democracy, which has authorised the retention of material similar to Internet Connection records, is Denmark and they subsequently abandoned their experiment having found it did not yield any significant benefits for law enforcement. The USA has rolled back from bulk data collection having found it to be unconstitutional and of questionable value in fighting terrorism.

It is for the UK government to justify why it requires to go so much further than othergovernments. Such operational cases as have been produced are based on anecdotal and hypothetical evidence as opposed to independent evaluation of the utility of the far‐reaching powers sought.

MPs from all parties suspect the Government of wanting to rush this Bill through Parliament to avoid proper scrutiny. 

Three parliamentary committees, eminent commentators, civil liberty campaign groups and the technical sector share our concerns.

Everyone wants to get the balance right between protecting civil liberties, in particular, the right to privacy and data security and giving law enforcement and the intelligence and security services the necessary and proportionate powers to fight serious crime and terrorism, however the government’s attempt to get this right falls short.

The SNP looks forward to working with other parliamentarians to get this important balance right but the government must afford sufficient time for consideration of the Bill. 

Surveillance is a global concern, and this new legislation could be copied internationally. It is therefore all the more important that we get it right.  Getting it right will take time and careful scrutiny and parliament must be afforded the opportunity to do the job properly.