And they’re done: the report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill has reported and that report has been embargoed until further notice. The BBC’s James Landale has the scoop:
A joint committee of MPs and peers has been considering the draft bill since the summer and it will publish next week what is expected to be a strongly critical report.
One senior Lib Dem minister said: “The report gives Nick an opportunity to kill the bill for good and that’s what he wants to do.” Another said: “This is a dead duck. It is a question of when, not if.”
In its report, the joint committee on the draft Communications Data Bill will argue that:
- The Home Office has failed to make the case for the new laws, not least by failing to show how the police use existing laws to monitor mobile phone data.
- The bill infringes civil liberties and invades privacy by allowing the police access to a mass of new data without adequate safeguards. In particular, they will argue that in some internet use – particularly social media sites – it is difficult to distinguish between the details of the communication and the actual content of the message.
- The measure would damage British businesses by forcing phone companies and internet service providers to store at huge cost for 12 months masses of new data that they would not otherwise keep.
- The new pool of data would be open to abuse and present a security threat.
One committee source said: “It is critical of the approach the Home Office initially took and recommends more caution and a more proportionate way forward.
“It worries about individual liberties and principle and the costs and proportionality of what was initially recommended. How secure is this information? Are you certain it cannot be stolen by people who have access to it?”
The committee’s formal minutes are out, and show that they discussed the report in five sittings from the 7th of November through to the 28th of November. Interestingly, it doesn’t appear the committee actually disagreed enough on anything to vote on it, though I’d wait for the final report to see if the minutes are expanded on.
No committee member seemed entirely satisfied with the government’s position in my reading of the evidence, though Michael Ellis seemed the most close to the government position. The committee heard evidence from 52 witnesses over thirteen sessions in both public and private with a total of 22 hours and 4 minutes of public evidence. At a guess, adding evidence in private session might increase it by another four hundred minutes (or nearly seven hours) given the average session length of 110 minutes but that is entirely hypothetical.
Other observations were the high attendance – an average of 92.31% – and that five groups of people were before the committee the most: government watchdogs, industry representatives, academics, agencies and pressure groups. Below them come civil servants, law enforcement representatives and then communication service providers themselves.
After they had heard all the evidence, they began considering what would be in the report (or Chair’s draft report as they called it). These discussions went on over three sessions. At the end of that process, the Lord Chairman proposed a draft report (actually drafted by the committee’s clerks based on the prior discussions) which was brought up and read – the equivalent of a first reading, presumably. It was then ordered that the draft report be read a second time and exactly as in the committee stage of a bill, each individual paragraph is debated and voted on, either to include it in the report or to amend it. Then the summary is voted on, and then the appendices. Next, akin to third reading, the report must be adopted by the committee as the “report of the committee to the House”. The Committee then often orders that embargoed copies of the report are placed before the House.
We’re still waiting for a report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights (which appears to not have discussed the matter yet, nor held any hearings on it, according to the formal minutes) and from the Prime Minister’s Intelligence and Security Committee, whose minutes we don’t have access to.
Raw data can be found here.
Canada’s government still has not progressed the bill yet, though the opposition NDP appears to believe it may be back soon. Australia’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security should publish its report soon, and I will cover that one in the same level of detail.