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Timing is everything in the world of media relations – one of the cardinal rules is that if you have bad news, try and “break it” when there’s something else going on to mitigate its impact. For the cynical, it seems that the Conservatives tried to employ this strategy last week by scheduling the reading of the Budget the very next day after the lengthy debate and first House of Commons vote on the IPB. Whether they were hoping for the sugar tax to sweeten any negative publicity over the controversial and divisive IPB, or vice versa, is anyone’s guess.

The key takeaway from last Tuesday’s reading, debate and vote is that the IP Bill took a step closer to becoming law. 281 MPs voted in favour versus just 15 against, while both Labour and the SNP abstained to vote (the Bill would have been defeated had they voted against it). Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham defended Labour’s ‘on the fence’ stance by saying “Britain needs a new law in this area. Outright opposition which some are proposing… risks sinking this Bill and leaving the interim laws [DRIPA etc] in place”. The SNP meanwhile is holding its power to sink the Bill until after the next Committee stage, wherein they seek to change the proposed legislation “significantly”.

So now the Bill finds itself subject to a “detailed examination” of each clause by a Public Bill Committee (PBC); the full make-up of which (including the chairpersons) if you’re interested is 12 Conservatives, 6 Labour and two SNP; who will then report both on the Bill and any proposed amendments to the House of Commons by the 5th May. MPs will then have a final opportunity to debate and vote on the Bill (and any proposed amendments) in the House of Commons and if passed, a similar process will take place in the House of Lords before the Bill can become law.

Do you have strong views about the IPB? Share them with the PBC.

Oral evidence sessions to the PBC will take place today, the 24th March, while written evidence from those with “relevant expertise and experience or an interest” in the IPB can be submitted up to the point at which the Committee presents its report, something that we would wholeheartedly encourage our partners to do.

If we’re feeling particularly cynical, whether or not Theresa May and the Home Office takes heed of any amendments proposed by the PBC remains to be seen – let’s not forget that they answered the Intelligence and Security Committee’s call to “include a single additional Part that addresses privacy safeguards and clearly sets out universal privacy protections which apply across a full range of investigatory powers” by inserting a single word (Privacy) into the title of Part 1 of the draft Bill, an action that has been universally accepted as doing nothing to strengthen privacy protections while also being deemed “insulting” by Lord Strasburger, one of the members of the Select Committee who were also highly critical of the draft Bill.

ISPA of course maintains its view that, in its current form, the Bill is not fit for purpose. James Blessing, ISPA’s Chairman, told us “ISPA supports reform of investigatory powers through a new Bill, but we are a long way from having a Bill that is clear and workable. Government needs to address concerns around its intentions, definitions and costs to enable industry to make a proper assessment of the Bill and help Parliament scrutinise the complex proposals. Getting this right is essential for the UK digital economy and user trust in services.

There was no doubt the Bill would clear the 2nd Reading and now the Public Bill Committee has a chance to scrutinise the Bill we expect amendments around ICRs, oversight and definitions. We are pleased the Labour Party, SNP and others agrees that more needs to be done on these issues and we will discuss the Bill at a workshop ISPA is running in Parliament on Wednesday 13th April. If any members wish to attend, please email admin@ISPA.org.uk for more information.”

Have your say!

Have you resigned yourself to the fact that the IPB is going to be signed into law by the end of the year or do you remain hopeful that sense and reason will shine through? Will you be advising concerned customers to maintain their internet anonymity by using no-log virtual private networks? Whatever your thoughts, we’re waiting to hear from you so please leave a comment below.

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