Clause 5 - Third party bulk personal datasets

Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:30 pm ar 7 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security) 12:30, 7 Mawrth 2024

I beg to move amendment 16, in clause 5, page 14, line 34, at end insert—

“(4) A third party BPD warrant may not authorise the examination of a dataset consisting of the contents of the marked electoral register.”

This amendment would prevent a third-party bulk personal dataset consisting of the electoral register, which sets out whether people have voted, from being examined by the intelligence services.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Llafur, Bradford South

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause stand part.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

Amendment 16 relates to third-party BPDs, specifically the use of the marked electoral register, which is a copy of the electoral register usually arranged by a polling station area or ward with names crossed off to indicate who has voted. Copies are available for political parties to buy from local authorities and add to their records, which aid with canvassing and voter engagement on the basis that a person who has previously voted has a higher propensity to vote again, and for that purpose alone.

Compared with the electoral register, the marked electoral register contains a record of individuals who have exercised their democratic right at the ballot box. The Opposition understand entirely that it would be appropriate for copies of the marked electoral register to be examined in an investigation into electoral fraud. Any attempts to undermine our democratic process must be dealt with with the utmost seriousness. However, we do not believe that it is appropriate or proportionate for information relating to voting records, contained in such documents, to be authorised as a third-party BPD. That could establish links between individuals or better understand a subject of interest’s behaviour.

More widely, we have concerns about records of democratic activity, such as any relating to trade union membership, being examined as a third-party BPD. Does the Minister agree that copies of the marked electoral register should be used to defend and strengthen our democratic processes, and for those purposes alone, and that safeguards should be in place to protect other data relating to democratic activity from being examined as a third-party BPD?

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Scottish National Party, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

I fully understand the questions that have been proposed by the shadow Minister, and it will be interesting to hear the answers that he gets.

On clause 5, it makes sense to ensure that access to third-party bulk personal datasets is subject to the general Investigative Powers Act scheme and oversight regime, including the double lock. Of course, we had extensive debates back in 2016 on whether that double lock was strong enough. My party argued that the judicial review standard was not tough enough and that we should be asking judicial commissioners to look at the positions again on their merits. But we lost that battle, and we are where we are.

Some of these datasets will include hugely personal information on internet searches and shopping history. These profiles can build up a pretty intrusive picture of how we go about our lives, and sometimes not very accurately. We are also talking expressly about personal datasets, which could include health data. That is on the face of the Bill. Does the Minister envisage that such access will be used only to make inquiries on subjects of particular interest, or will it be used for broader trawls of information?

As set out in the letter from the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, there is also concern about how this provision will apply to datasets that have been obtained unlawfully. Should there be additional safeguards on the use of illegally obtained data? What is the Government’s thinking on that?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 12:45, 7 Mawrth 2024

I thank hon. Members for their points. The examination of third-party bulk personal datasets by the intelligence services is vital to their role of protecting the national security and economic wellbeing of the United Kingdom and preventing and detecting serious crime.

Clause 5 places an explicit statutory regime around the intelligence services’ examination, in situ, of bulk datasets held by third parties. The regime would apply only to the intelligence services, in line with the wider part 7 BPD powers in the IPA. The clause puts in place robust oversight and safeguards. For example, third-part dataset warrants are to be subject to a double lock, and the decision to authorise the warrant will need to be approved by both the Secretary of State and an independent judicial commissioner. The Investigatory Powers Commissioner and his office will oversee the regime to ensure the intelligence services’ examination of third-party datasets is both necessary and proportionate. That relates to the point made by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East about proportionality and need.

To answer the point made by the hon. Member for Barnsley Central, we do not consider it appropriate to exclude specific types of dataset from those for which a third-party dataset warrant can be sought. The reason is, as he knows, that we can begin to go down very tricky routes on this area, as the intelligence services have a requirement to keep safe not just our democracy but our wider nation. Therefore, limiting those different arguments can be problematic. What we are aiming to do is ensure the proportionality requirement is the test applied by both judicial commissioners and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner.

The Secretary of State may issue a warrant authorising the examination of a third-party dataset only where it is necessary and proportionate—that is going to be quite a high bar in some of the areas asked about—for the intelligence service to examine the dataset to which the warrant relates. That decision will be double-locked by an independent judicial commissioner who, among other things, is required expressly to review the Secretary of State’s conclusions in respect of necessity and proportionality when deciding whether to approve the decision to issue a warrant. That is already in the Bill. Each decision will be made on a case-by-case basis and will be subject to prior judicial approval.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

I am grateful for the Minister’s response. I have to say, I am struggling to think of a scenario in which it might be necessary and proportionate to examine the marked electoral register. This is something we will reflect on.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Ceidwadwyr, South Holland and The Deepings

I broadly support the Minister’s view of this, but the easiest way to establish the case for this is to be clear about its operational purposes. Clearly, one would not expect the Minister or the agencies to speak about the specifics of operations, but dealing with the operational purposes would help the shadow Minister and the Committee. I am sure the Minister would be happy to do that in broad terms, either now or in writing. It would be really helpful to go through the kinds of operational purposes associated with this inquiry. I do not know what the Minister and the shadow Minister think, but that is how I see it.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

That is a helpful and useful suggestion. I am happy to proceed on that basis, if the Minister is.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.