The Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), the Rt. Hon. Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, has issued the following statement on behalf of the Committee:
The government has today published a draft Communications Data Bill which aims to update the current legislation that allows public bodies - including the intelligence and security Agencies and the police - to access information relating to communications data. The Bill will now be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of Parliament. Given the importance of communications data to the work undertaken by the intelligence Agencies, the ISC has begun its own investigation into this area. We will take evidence and examine the rationale behind the proposals and how rigorous the safeguards are to ensure the privacy of individuals.
Notes to editors
1. The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) was established in 1994 to examine the policy, administration and expenditure of the Security Service, Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The Committee also examines the work of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), the Assessments Staff and the National Security Secretariat in the Cabinet Office, and Defence Intelligence (DI) in the Ministry of Defence.
2. The ISC is a cross-party Committee of 9 Parliamentarians from the Lords and the Commons. The Prime Minister appoints ISC members after considering nominations from Parliament and consulting with the Leader of the Opposition. The Committee’s membership is as follows:
- The Rt. Hon. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, MP (Chairman)
- The Rt. Hon. Hazel Blears, MP The Rt. Hon. Paul Goggins, MP
- The Rt. Hon. Lord Butler KG GCB CVO The Rt. Hon. George Howarth, MP
- The Rt. Hon. Sir Menzies Campbell CBE QC, MP Dr Julian Lewis, MP
- Mr Mark Field, MP Lord Lothian QC PC
3. The ISC takes evidence in private, and its members are subject to the terms of the Official Secrets Act 1989. This ensures they are able to scrutinise the most sensitive work of the intelligence Agencies that cannot be made public. However, when producing reports, the Committee aims to put as much material as possible in the public domain. The intelligence Agencies can request that material that they feel would prejudice their work (such as sources, targets, capabilities, or current operations) can be removed from the public version (or ‘redacted’). The Committee considers such requests in considerable detail, and rejects those it feels are unjustifiable. The Agencies have the power to request the Prime Minister redacts material without the Committee’s consent, but to date this power has never been used.
4. The government’s draft Communications Data (CD) Bill was published on 14 June 2012. It covers revisions to be made to current powers of public bodies to access communications data (i.e. that information about a communication, but not the content). A Joint Committee of Parliament will now begin formal pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill. The Joint Committee is scheduled to report to both Houses by the end of November 2012.