10:44 GMT02 April 2020
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    A group of lawmakers in the UK Parliament have forced concession from Home Secretary Theresa May over the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill - known as the Snoopers' Charter - which they say did not protect lawyers and journalists from mass surveillance.

    UK Prime Minister David Cameron was hoping to fast-track the bill — led by Theresa May — through parliament after having failed to pass in in the previous parliament because of opposition from his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats. 

    However, the bill has been delayed several times because of concerns over the bulk collection of personal data by the security services and the police, which many said was in breach of people's human rights and their right to freedom of expression, particularly following the revelations of mass data gathering by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013.

    ​The latest criticism comes from the influential parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) which — in its latest report — said that powers for the bulk collection of data from a wide variety of sources (known as 'bulk powers') should be referred to the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC.

    Concessions and Delay

    This is the second time May has been forced the refer parts of the legislation to Anderson — outside of parliament —  after conceding to pressure from the Labour Party for an independent review of sections relating to bulk data collection.

    The committee report also stated that the requirement that the prime minister be consulted if any monitoring of members of parliament was requested by the security services was inadequate and that there were insufficient safeguards for journalists and lawyers for whom client- and source-confidentiality was an important principle.

    The so-called Wilson Doctrine — named after former Prime Minister Harold Wilson — holds that the security services and police shall not snoop on lawmakers' communications but previous versions of the bill held that there was no legal force behind it. However, now May has said it will be included in the provisions of the bill.

    The report stated: "We consider that the requirement that the Prime Minister be consulted before any interference with such communications is an inadequate safeguard. We query whether the safeguards for lawyer-client confidentiality in the Bill are sufficiently robust. We recognize the real difficulty of defining "journalism" in the digital age, but we are concerned that the safeguards for journalists' sources are inferior to similar safeguards in other contexts."

    JCHR Chair Harriet Harman said:

    " Protection for MP communications from unjustified interference is vital, as it is for confidential communications between lawyers and clients, and for journalists' sources, the Bill must provide tougher safeguards to ensure that the Government cannot abuse its powers to undermine Parliament's ability to hold the Government to account."

    ​Theresa May has now agreed to the introduction of a privacy clause which prevents the authorization of mass surveillance powers where less intrusive means could be used. She has also agreed to concessions over journalists, in that the judicial commissioner must first agree a 'public interest' test before using data collection to identify their sources. However, it is unclear whether all the concessions and amendments will be in place in time for the next session on the bill on June 6 and 7.


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    surveillance bill, mass surveillance, snooping, digital surveillance, data collection, British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), MI6, MI5, Edward Snowden, David Cameron, Theresa May, United Kingdom
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