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Investigatory Powers Bill passes

According to Parliament’s website, “outstanding issues on the [Investigatory Powers] Bill were resolved on 16th November“. The Bill now passes to its final formal stage, Royal Assent, after which it will be the Investigatory Powers Act.

Although the final text won’t be published till that happens, the Parliamentary stages don’t seem to have made any significant changes to the powers in the original draft Bill. Most changes appear to be clarifications and modifications for the process of approving orders.

For Janet and its customers the most significant change is that the Government’s current powers to order public networks to retain communications data and provide technical measures to facilitate investigations have been extended to all “telecommunications operators”. This term is defined sufficiently widely to capture any network, including private networks between and within universities, colleges, businesses and homes.

The only example the Government has given of where this power might be used is if a cybercafe were to become a meeting-place for terrorists. That puzzled many telecoms lawyers who had understood from Ofcom’s rule of thumb that cybercafes were public networks already. It’s therefore impossible to predict whether the Government might decide to make an order against any of the much wider range of networks that are now within the scope of its powers.

Unless a network operator does receive such an order, any retention of data or inspection of content can only be done under existing legal permissions – typically limited to the operator’s own requirements such as protecting the network and its services. Increasing your logging or interception facilities just because of the new Act is likely to breach data protection and interception law.

By Andrew Cormack

I'm Chief Regulatory Advisor at Jisc, responsible for keeping an eye out for places where our ideas, services and products might raise regulatory issues. My aim is to fix either the product or service, or the regulation, before there's a painful bump!

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