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What's wrong with the Investigatory Powers Bill?

Left to right Robert Bourn, Michelle Stanistreet, Joanna Cherry, and Chantal-Aimée Doerries, House of Commons  -  © Ray King

12 April 2016

Ray King

Lawyers and journalists appealed to MPs yesterday, Monday 11 April, to resist the government’s rush to spy on all of us in the name of national security.

The investigatory powers bill will empower police and the secret services to trawl through everyone’s computer and mobile phone records. It is the second coming of a snoopers’ charter which was dropped by the previous coalition government.

Critics say it will be the death knell for investigative journalism, offers no protection to whistleblowers and will encourage corporate and state misconduct.

Lawyers have joined the protests against the bill because it undermines the 400-year-old convention that the authorities should be excluded from communication between lawyers and defendants.

It is an essential right of a citizen in a democracy to consult a lawyer in private, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC told MPs last night.

Doerries, chairman of the Bar Council for England and Wales, said these powers should be given only in exceptional and compelling cases, where there is fear of an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a serious threat to national security.

She said people and governments in the Far East look to Britain for an example of how to behave and this bill could be used as an example for regimes to undermine individual freedoms in other parts of the world .

Robert Bourns, vice president of the Law Society, said the bill would have a chilling effect on freedom.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary said the bill is a major threat to journalists being able to do their job. 

Journalists and society needs an open and transparent process if the authorities used these powers.

Government has ignored advice from many quarters, including the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, and has used spin and lies to defend the bill.

The unintended consequence will be to destroy people’s confidence in being able to approach a journalist to uncover abuse of power. It will also undermine the effectiveness of trade unions.

Joanna Cherry QC MP said she had to have a bag of ice on her head trying to unravel the details of the bill. Even some Tory MPs are unhappy with it. 

She said there should be a public interest defence for whistleblowers, including those working in the police and intelligence services.

She said the bill was so unpalatable it would not be countenanced in an independent Scotland.

The bill passed its second reading in parliament on 15 March 2016.

Last night’s meeting, organised by the NUJ, was arranged to encourage MPs and Lords to amend the draft legislation.

Video footage of the event will be published shortly.

Download the NUJ briefing circulated at the event.

For more information about the campaign, visit the dedicated pages on the NUJ website.

Tags: , surveillance, investigatory powers bill, ripa, parliament uk, legislation, law society, bar council, mps, ethics, protection of sources