On 17th October 2016, the House of Lords considered the Government’s Investigatory Powers Bill at Report Stage. The Bishop of Chester, Rt Revd Peter Forster, took part in the debate on an amendment from the Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Paddick on the retention of internet connection records. Introducing the amendment, Lord Paddick said: “the effect of Amendment 118A, tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, would be to remove internet connection records from any notice requiring the retention of communications data by telecommunications operators.”
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I was a member of the Joint Committee conducting pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, along with the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger—I am not sure whether anyone else in the Chamber was. I remember a discussion which was genuinely open and uncertain about the practicality of this above all. The issue of privacy has been raised very powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, and others from the Liberal Democrat Benches. We thought at the end of the day that the whole Bill was about reaching a balance, with a degree of compromise over issues of privacy alongside the really quite robust safeguards which are in the Bill, such as the role of the judicial commissioners, as all set out in Clause 86. Our real issue was over practicality and cost. When the Minister comes to respond, it would be helpful if we could have a bit more guidance as to what this is going to cost. The cost will not fall on the companies; it will fall upon the Government, who will have to fund it.
However, we were persuaded that under Clause 84, the retention notice may be more specific than has been suggested in the speech from the Liberal Democrat Benches. It is not necessarily every connection to every website: the provision could be targeted to particular websites, for example, which is all set out in Clause 84. We should also emphasise that these records would not be of the content of what was happening: it would be where you had made contact, not the content of the connection as such. That is an important factor which has not been mentioned in the contributions.
That said, a representative from Denmark came and explained to us why the Danes had given up on this, simply on the grounds of cost and practicality. It is the practicalities that I would like to hear about most from the Minister when he speaks, alongside of course acknowledgement of the points that have been made by others in the debate.
Lord Paddick (LibDem) [extract]: The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, mentioned the vital question: is it reasonable, is it proportionate and where should the balance lie? However, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester pointed out, there are other real questions which the noble and learned Lord failed to address about whether ICRs would in practice deliver what the law enforcement agencies want. My noble friend Lord Oates re-emphasised that this is a massive intrusion into privacy; that is why we oppose it. As he pointed out, in a child exploitation case, there is a joint operations unit between GCHQ and the National Crime Agency to deal with the issue.
Where I part company with the right reverend Prelate is on the suggestion that ICRs could be more targeted. There is nothing in the Bill to suggest that they will. On the content of websites, if someone accesses a domestic violence, gender reassignment or marriage guidance website, it is immediately apparent what they are looking into and it is a massive intrusion into privacy even if the record is only of the website they are looking at.
The amendment was put to a vote and rejected by 293 to 75, with the Bishop of Chester voting against it.