A landmark bill which sets out and governs the powers available to the police, security and intelligence agencies to gather and access electronic communications has received Royal Assent.
The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 will ensure that law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies have the powers they need in a digital age to disrupt terrorist attacks, subject to strict safeguards and world-leading oversight.
The new legislation brings together and updates existing powers while radically overhauling how they are authorised and overseen. It also creates one new power: the introduction of Internet Connection Records, which will be accessible by law enforcement and the intelligence agencies to disrupt terrorist attacks and prosecute suspects.
The act protects both the privacy and security of the public by introducing:
- a “double-lock” for the most intrusive powers, so that warrants issued by a Secretary of State will also require the approval of a senior judge
- a powerful new Investigatory Powers Commissioner, to oversee how the powers are used
- new protections for journalistic and legally privileged material, and a requirement for judicial authorisation for acquisition of communications data that identify journalists’ sources
- tough sanctions – including the creation of new criminal offences – for those misusing the powers
The bill responded to the recommendations of three independent reviews and underwent a period of extensive pre-legislative scrutiny before being revised and introduced in the House of Commons on 1 March. Over 1700 proposed amendments to the bill were debated by Parliament before it concluded its passage on 16 November. In receiving Royal Assent, the government has fulfilled its commitment to pass the legislation before the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (DRIPA), sunsets on 31 December.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd said:
This government is clear that, at a time of heightened security threat, it is essential our law enforcement, security and intelligence services have the powers they need to keep people safe.
The internet presents new opportunities for terrorists and we must ensure we have the capabilities to confront this challenge. But it is also right that these powers are subject to strict safeguards and rigorous oversight.
The Investigatory Powers Act is world-leading legislation that provides unprecedented transparency and substantial privacy protection.
I want to pay tribute to the independent reviewers, organisations, and Parliamentarians of all parties for their rigorous scrutiny of this important law which is vital for the safety and security of our families, communities and country.
Some of the provisions in the bill will require extensive testing and will not be in place for some time. The Home Office is developing plans for implementing the provisions in the bill and will set out the timetable in due course. This will be subject to detailed consultation with industry and operational partners. In the meantime, the government will commence the provisions in the bill required to replace the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (DRIPA) which sunsets on 31 December.