The Lords are debating the latest amendments to the Investigatory Powers Bill — known as the Snoopers' Charter — designed to allow the intelligence services and the police to collect communications data for law enforcement and counterterrorism purposes.
The Bill came about following the revelations by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden, who exposed mass surveillance by Britain's spy agency GCHQ, MI5, MI6 and the police, which created a storm of protest over the lack of proper oversight over the collection of bulk data on millions of citizens.
The outcry over the proposed collection of bulk data — peoples' Internet history, email activity, phone calls and social media usage — caused lawmakers to refer the issue to Britain's Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, to investigate some of the proposed legislation and rule on the operational case for bulk interception, bulk acquisition of communications data, bulk personal datasets and bulk equipment interference.
"Bulk powers have been essential to the security and intelligence agencies over the last decade and will be increasingly important in the future. The acquisition and use of bulk data — information acquired in large volumes and used subject to special restrictions —provides vital and unique intelligence that the security and intelligence agencies cannot obtain by any other means," Anderson concluded.
However, a ruling by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, October 17, 2016, found that the UK's intelligence agencies were secretly and unlawfully collecting bulk data on people in the UK without adequate safeguards or supervision for over a decade.
Mark Scott of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, instructed by Privacy International in the legal challenge, said: "This judgment confirms that for over a decade UK security services unlawfully concealed both the extent of their surveillance capabilities and that innocent people across the country have been spied upon."
The Bill currently under consideration by the Lords contains a number of proposed safeguards, allowing for the bulk collection of data — but only under certain controlled circumstances and bound by an oversight regime dictated by the UK parliament. However, privacy campaign groups say these measures do not go far enough.