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Investigatory Powers Act 2016 reform announced in King’s Speech Published Date: 13/11/2023

On 8 November, the government introduced legislation to update the Investigatory Powers Act 2016.  

The Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill was announced in the King’s Speech and will make urgent and targeted amendments to the existing act to ensure our country is kept safe and our citizens protected from harmful threats.

As technology advances and changes, so do the threats that the UK faces. Updating the act to meet modern reality will ensure our intelligence agencies can use and develop more appropriate tools and capabilities to rapidly identify intelligence insights from increasing quantities of data. This will allow them to better understand and respond to threats to the public and keep apace with evolving technology.

These amendments will enhance our national security by keeping the public safer from threats such as terrorism, hostile activity from foreign powers and serious and organised crime. The UK is a world leader in ensuring privacy can be protected without compromising security. The bill will maintain and enhance the existing high standards for safeguarding privacy in the 2016 act.

Suella Braverman, previous Home Secretary, said:  

My priority is and always will be to keep the public safe. I am committed to ensuring that our intelligence agencies and law enforcement have all the tools to do just this. 

Backed by safeguards, these reforms will play an integral part in tackling a range of dangerous threats to our country. 

The targeted reforms will not create new powers in the act. They will instead modify elements of the existing legislation to ensure it is proportionate, provides agencies and oversight bodies with appropriate resilience mechanisms and maintains and enhances the existing measures. As Lord Anderson noted in his recent review of the act, the UK goes much further than its allies in respect of the current restrictions placed on the intelligence agencies’ use of bulk personal datasets.

The bill will update the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 by: 

  • Making changes to the bulk personal dataset regime, to improve the intelligence agencies’ ability to respond with greater agility and speed to existing and emerging threats to national security. The amendments will improve the quality and speed of analysts’ decision making, improving their ability to keep the public safe in a digital age, whilst adhering to strong, proportionate safeguards and with independent oversight.

  • Enhancing the existing world leading safeguards to support the Investigatory Powers Commissioner in carrying out oversight of public authorities use of investigatory powers,

  • Modifying the notices regimes to ensure the efficacy of the existing powers in the context of new technologies and the commercial structures of a modern digital economy. This includes ensuring that the law maintains exceptional lawful access where possible, to ensure the protection of public safety while also protecting the privacy of citizens and the ability of companies to develop cutting-edge technologies,

  • Updating the conditions for use of Internet Connection Records to ensure that these can be used effectively to target the most serious types of criminal activity and national security threats without a corresponding increase in levels of intrusion, underpinned by a robust independent oversight regime, and

  • Increasing resilience of the warranty authorisation processes to allow greater operational agility for the intelligence agencies and National Crime Agency. This will help to ensure they can always get lawful access to information in a timely way so that they can respond to the most serious national security and organised crime threats.

The heads of the UK’s intelligence agencies, Anne Keast-Butler, Director GCHQ; Ken McCallum, Director General of MI5; and Richard Moore, Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, said:

The Investigatory Powers Act is fundamental to the agencies’ ability to keep the country safe while maintaining our democratic licence to operate. It provides the investigatory powers we need to detect and disrupt threats to the UK while applying world-leading safeguards consistent with the UK’s democratic values.

From hostile activity by states, to terrorists and criminal groups, all our adversaries are taking advantage of new technologies to further their aims. It is vital the UK is able to keep pace, which is why we are pleased that Parliament will debate a number of vital, targeted changes to the IPA.

With robust and innovative protections – including independent oversight by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and redress through the Investigatory Powers Tribunal - the existing act regulates how investigatory powers are used by public authorities. It makes clear the circumstances in which the various powers may be used and the strict safeguards that apply. This ensures that any interference with privacy is strictly necessary, proportionate, authorised, and accountable. 

The measures being taken forward in the bill have been driven by the Home Secretary’s review and recommendations made in the independent review by Lord Anderson published in June 2023.  

Graeme Biggar, Director General of the National Crime Agency, said: 

Accessing communications data is essential for investigating the most serious crimes and protecting our national security. 

As technology and the threats we face evolve in the digital world, we need to ensure the legislation remains fit for purpose to help keep the public safe. 

The amendments to the Investigatory Powers Act will enhance law enforcement’s ability to tackle terrorism, state threats and serious organised crime such as child sexual exploitation, drug smuggling and fraud.

The reforms to the act will ensure the powers continue to be subject to robust independent oversight. Access to individuals’ data will happen only exceptionally, where it is necessary to prevent the most serious forms of crime, and with robust protections in place.

Tom Tugendhat, Security Minister, said:  

The first duty of government is to protect the British people.

This bill will give our intelligence services the powers they need to stay on the cutting edge as they defend our country against terrorism and hostile state actors, whilst protecting and enhancing the privacy of people across the UK.