'Snoopers' charter' draft bill must go further to protect journalistic material " parliamentary committee

Laws to protect journalistic material are not "applied consistently" in the draft Investigatory Powers Bill and should be improved on, a parliamentary inquiry has concluded.

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has rejected the bill – dubbed the snoopers' charter – in its current form.

And, in a report released today, the committee highlighted inconsistency around rules protecting journalistic sources as one of the "key areas of concern".

The draft bill, published in November, set out in law new protections to prevent police forces from obtaining telecommunications data to identify journalists' sources without approval from a "judicial commissioner".

But the ISC today questioned why the clause does not apply to intelligence agencies in addition to the police. 

The draft bill stated: 

Police requests that are intended to identify journalists’ sources must be authorised by a judge

“Whilst everyone has a right to privacy, certain professions handle particularly sensitive or confidential information, which may attract additional protections.

“These professions include medical doctors, lawyers, journalists, Members of Parliament and the devolved legislatures, and Ministers of Religion.

“The Investigatory Powers Bill will put in statute a requirement for all applications to  access the communications data for the purpose of identifying or confirming the identity of a journalist’s source to be authorised by a Judicial Commissioner.

“The draft Bill will also require that statutory Codes of Practice issued in respect of communications data must make provision for additional safeguards that apply to sensitive professions Commissioner approval for authorisations to identify or confirm journalistic sources.”

There was concern in the journalism industry that the rules did not go far enough. And this has today been followed by criticism from the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Under the heading "Key areas of concern", the report said it was surprising that protection of people's privacy "does not feature more prominently" in the draft bill.

It said: "It is the view of this Committee that privacy protections should form the backbone of the draft legislation, around which the exceptional powers are then built."

The committee said this "approach should also be applied to the additional protections afford to certain sensitive professions". But it said these are "mentioned sporadically throughout and do not appear to be applied consistently".

The report said: "For example, Clause 61 sets out that a Judicial Commissioner must approve an authorisation to obtain Communications Data for the purpose of identifying a source of journalistic information. However, this clause does not apply to the Agencies."

The body recommended: "Where additional protection is provided for sensitive professions, these safeguards must be applied consistently, no matter which investigatory power is used to obtain the information. The new legislation should be amended to rectify this inconsistency."

Tory MP Dominic Grieve, chairman of the committee, said: "The issues under consideration are undoubtedly complex, however it has been evident that even those working on the legislation have not always been clear as to what the provisions are intended to achieve."

He added:"The draft Bill appears to have suffered from a lack of sufficient time and preparation."

The committee of MPs and peers took evidence in private from Home Secretary Theresa May, the heads of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6, and other officials.

Its report published on Tuesday focused on the impact of the proposed laws on the intelligence agencies.

Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokeswoman said: "This is a very detailed report. The Government will want to take time to look at it and consider it.

"The whole point of having this pre-legislative scrutiny period is so we can hear the views of others and engage with them to make sure we get this absolutely right.

"This is about making sure our police and our intelligence agencies can continue to keep people safe in Britain, whether that's tackling organised crime, tackling terrorism. We need to make sure they have the powers they need for the digital age."

A separate joint committee of peers and MPs, set up specifically to look at the draft Investigatory Powers Bill under the chairmanship of former Cabinet minister Lord Murphy of Torfaen, is due to publish its report on 11 February.

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