Investigatory Powers Bill: Bishop of Chester speaks on retention of internet connection records

On 19th July 2016 the House of Lords considered the Government’s Investigatory Powers Bill on its third day in Committee. The Bishop of Chester, Rt Revd Peter Forster, took part in the proceedings, speaking during debate on amendments that would prevent the retention of internet connection records. 

Lord Strasburger moved Amendment 147A:

After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—

“Authorisation to obtain data from an internet connection record

An authorisation to obtain data from an internet connection record is not to have effect until such time (if any) as a Judicial Commissioner has approved it.”

14.03 Bishop of ChesterThe Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I, too, was a member of the Joint Committee. This is the first time I have spoken on the Bill, for various reasons, and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, who chaired us so splendidly. The Bill has gone through a model of pre-legislative scrutiny. Compared with the state of most legislation that comes to us, it has really been chewed over, not least in the Commons, to improve it further. I am broadly comfortable with it.

It is good that we are looking at these issues because we are pushing the boat out. Inevitably, in the internet age, we are having to do things we have not done before. I understand the practical challenge of keeping internet connection records effectively. The Danish experiment is salutary—they effectively abandoned it. We had a witness from Denmark who explained it all to us: they had tried and failed. I think that the case for having access to internet connection records has been made. There is a document to which no reference has yet been made entitled Operational Case for the Use of Communications Data by Public Authorities—that is, other than the police—which lists about 20 authorities, such as the Financial Conduct Authority, and sets out case by case the value of having such records. I was with the majority on the committee which felt the case has been made in principle.

The Bill sets out various checks and balances. The companies which will be required to keep these records have a right to appeal against the notice and that must be discussed with the Information Commissioner to ensure that what is being asked of them is practically possible. They must put in place adequate security systems to ensure that the internet connection records which are retained are properly secure.

There are practical questions because we are pushing the boat out a bit internationally as to how this is to be achieved and how much it will cost. As I understand it, the cost will not fall on the companies concerned but will be reimbursed to them by the Government. It would be helpful to know the latest estimate of those costs. I have a feeling that it was about £200 million when we met in the committee, but it would be good to know just what it may cost.

At the end of the day, we live in an ever more fragile and dangerous world and there are good reasons for thinking that that will be the case in future. If we can add this tool with proper safeguards to the police and other agencies it is well worth doing, but we should not underestimate the practical difficulties of being the first country to do this effectively; there are real questions there.


Lord Keen of Elie (Minister) [extract]: My Lords, Amendment 156A [grouped with amendment 147A] seeks to prevent the retention of internet connection records. The Committee will not be surprised that the Government cannot support such an amendment. We have been absolutely clear about the need for internet connection records. We addressed that when publishing the operational case for these powers.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester referred to a model of pre-legislative scrutiny. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, referred to the most scrutinised Bill ever seen. My noble friend Lord King alluded to the three reports we have had, and the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, spoke about the Joint Committee that he had chaired which scrutinised these matters. Over and above that, we had the evidence given to the Public Bill Committee by, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Reid, and Charles Clarke. They were asked whether they thought that ICR were a key part of updating legislation for the current world, and both agreed definitively. I commend the contents of those three reports to the noble Lord, Lord Oates, and also commend to him the findings of the Joint Committee. He asked whether the UK was unique within the “Five Eyes” or indeed the world in seeking to develop these powers. It may well be that we are the forefront of developing them, and a good thing it be. I quote from the report by David Anderson QC:

“Comparing the UK’s legal regime with those of other countries is fraught with danger”.

I commend to the noble Lord, Lord Oates, what follows in that report because David Anderson develops those points and explains them. It is on the record, we have had it for a long time, we have considered it in the development of the Bill and the Joint Committee considered these matters. That is why the Bill is in its present condition….

…The question of the cost of carrying out this exercise was raised. The figure of £1 billion has been put about repeatedly, and the experience in Denmark has been referred to on many occasions. However, one has to look at this from the perspective of the United Kingdom and its approach to this matter. We do not accept the estimate of £1 billion that has been given, and indeed—in response to the inquiry from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester—the current estimate of costs is about £175 million. Our figures factor in the existing infrastructure and the requirements already placed on individual communications service providers, as well as the technical complexity of their networks in this context.

The amendments were withdrawn after the debate.

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