Telecommunications definitions

Part of Investigatory Powers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 7:00 pm ar 3 Mai 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General 7:00, 3 Mai 2016

It is good to see you back in your place, Mr Owen. I look forward to a fruitful session.

I welcome the hon. and learned Lady’s remarks. We considered these issues in the context of part 4, in particular third-party data. I do not want to rehearse the arguments about why we consider the code of practice to be the appropriate place to enforce the commitment made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the Floor of the House on Second Reading. However, the Government note the strength of feeling on this issue, as evidenced by the outcome of the vote on an earlier amendment. We have heard that message loud and clear, so we are considering whether we could do more to make the commitment clear. I hope that that gives the hon. and learned Lady some reassurance that we are taking these matters seriously, and I am grateful to her for raising them.

The aim of the amendment appears to be to prevent a public authority from obtaining third-party data and to prevent a communications service provider from being required to retain those data. I am not sure that the amendment achieves that desired outcome. It would remove third-party data from one element but not from all elements of the definition of communications data. I do not think there is any debate about the need to get the definition of communications data right, but it must correctly and logically classify the data held by CSPs or what can be reasonably obtained by them. The principle of communications data is clear; changing the definition so that the classification of data changes depending on which provider holds it would cause a degree of confusion that I am sure the hon. and learned Lady does not intend.

My first argument is that the clause is not the right place to prevent public authorities from obtaining third-party data or to prevent a CSP from being required to retain them. Clause 53(5)(c) makes it clear that a communications data authorisation can provide for the obtaining of third-party data where that is reasonably practicable for the communications service provider. That maintains the existing provision under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Where a CSP holds communications data, whether in relation to its services or those provided by a third party for its business purposes, or where it is able to obtain them, they should be available to the public authorities for the statutory purposes in the Bill. We should not put them out of the reach of law enforcement agencies, based solely upon which company holds the information.