Duty not to make unauthorised disclosures

Investigatory Powers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 14 Ebrill 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office) 2:30, 14 Ebrill 2016

I beg to move amendment 77, in clause 49, page 39, line 2, after “not”, insert “, without reasonable excuse,”

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Llafur, Ynys Môn

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 78, in clause 49, page 39, line 19, at end insert—

“(3A) For the purposes of subsection (1), it is, in particular, a reasonable excuse if the disclosure is made with the permission of the person issuing the warrant or the person to whom it is issued.”

This provision adds a “reasonable excuse” defence to the “unauthorised disclosure” offence and expressly provides that the defence applies where the permission is given by the person issuing the warrant or the person to whom it is issued, the equivalent of a similar provision in clause 73(2) in relation to communications data authorisations.

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I can be brief because the amendments speak for themselves. Amendment 77 is intended to insert a reasonable excuse exception to the duty not to make an unauthorised disclosure, and amendment 78 goes with it by spelling out that it is a reasonable excuse if the disclosure is made with the permission of the person issuing the warrant or the person to whom it is issued.

There are two principal arguments. One is that in this and the following two clauses flexibility is needed for disclosure made in certain circumstances. The second point is one that some of the service providers are concerned about. They want to have discussions among themselves and with others about how to make the provisions in the Bill work.

At the moment, clause 49 would prohibit them from discussing either particular warrants or steps that they may be asked to take in order to solve some of those difficulties. It is the absolute nature of the prohibition that is the concern. Amendment 78, which allows disclosure if it is made with the permission of the person issuing it or to whom it is issued, seems to me to be a sensible way of getting around that particular problem.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

As the hon. and learned Gentleman says, amendments 77 and 78 would amend the duty not to make an “unauthorised disclosure” to add the defence of “reasonable excuse”. I accept that that would be on par with clause 73(2), which concerns the communications data provisions. I think that it is right that we retain the position that exists under RIPA, which itself reflects the sensitivity of the techniques of intercepting agencies, the fact that material obtained through intercept cannot be used in evidence—unlike communications data—and makes it an offence to disclose the existence of a warrant.

As clause 50 sets out, disclosure is already permitted if

“authorised by the person to whom the warrant is…addressed”.

I would therefore argue that amendment 78 is not required.

It is worth adding that clause 50 sets out four categories in which disclosure can be authorised. I will not repeat them; they are pretty self-explanatory and, for the sake of brevity, we need to move on. Those exceptions provide adequate protection and, in my judgment, collectively render this amendment unnecessary, particularly clause 50(2)(b). I see why the amendment has been tabled and why the hon. and learned Gentleman wants to probe on it, but as he has acknowledged during our deliberations, the techniques and details of the capabilities of intercepting agencies must be protected for all kinds of reasons that we do not need to rehearse once again. Disclosure of such details would potentially cause some damage to the ability of those agencies to do their job.

Having said that, I completely accept that, if there is a case of wrongdoing or impropriety, and that case is made public, it is right that justice is done. There is no doubt about that, which is precisely why we have put into the Bill the establishment of a commissioner with the power to look at any aspect of those matters. In the end, it is better that a senior impartial and qualified person should take a view than, say, a junior official or employee of a telecommunications operator.

Nevertheless, I accept that it is important that people can raise concerns without fear of prosecution, which is why—I invite Committee members to look at it—we added clause 203 to the Bill, which we will get to when the Committee considers part 8. You will not let me go into too much detail about that now, Mr Owen, but people will understand that it provides protection for whistleblowers through an information gateway, so that the commissioner that I described will receive information of the kind that I described in a straightforward way.

These clauses combined maintain an important principle: techniques and details of capabilities of intercepting agencies must be protected. Of course, it is important that we caveat that with the checks and balances that I have set out. I am not sure that these amendments would add much—or anything; I was just being polite—and I therefore invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw them.

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I listened carefully to what the Minister said about clause 50(2)(b). It may be that that provides a different route but achieves the same objective, and in those circumstances I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 49 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 50