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IPB: Report on operational case for bulk powers published

Posted by Sam Frances on Friday, August 26th, 2016 at 17:10

The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson Q.C., has published his report on bulk powers in the Investigatory Powers Bill.

The Home Secretary commissioned the report in May, at the behest of the Shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham, in order to evaluate the operational case for the four bulk powers in the Bill: bulk interception, bulk acquisition, bulk equipment interference and bulk personal datasets.

The report concludes that there is “proven case” for three of the bulk powers: interception, acquisition and personal data sets.

[These powers] are used across the range of Agency activity, from cyber-defence, counter-espionage and counter- terrorism to child sexual abuse and organised crime.

The bulk powers play an important part in identifying, understanding and averting threats in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and further afield. Where alternative methods exist, they are often less effective, more dangerous, more resource-intensive, more intrusive or slower.

For bulk equipment interference, Anderson argues that there is “a distinct (though not yet proven)” operational case, but urges “considerable caution” in view of:

(a) the fact that EI can recover data that has never been sent anywhere;

(b) the untried nature of the power;

(c) the fast-evolving range of offensive techniques that can be applied, and the likely speed of future technical developments; and

(d) the capacity of EI, particularly when used at scale, to cause, even inadvertently, lasting harm to networks and to devices;

Anderson declines to comment on the proportionality of bulk powers.

The Review was not asked to reach conclusions as to the proportionality or desirability of the bulk powers. As the terms of reference for the Review made clear, these are matters for Parliament.

In addition to reaching a conclusion on the operational case for bulk powers, the report also makes a single recommendation:

…that a Technical Advisory Panel of independent academics and industry experts be appointed by the Investigatory Powers Commission to advise on the impact of changing technology, and on how MI5, MI6 and GCHQ could reduce the privacy footprint of their activities.

Though it found that the bulk powers have a clear operational purpose, the Report accepts that technological changes will provoke new questions. Adoption of its Recommendation will enable such questions to be asked, and answered, on a properly informed basis.

For more information, see: Bulk Powers Review - Report - Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation

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