IPB A joint panel of cross-party politicos and peers have been granted a very small window to scrutinise the Home Office's draft Investigatory Powers Bill.
The committee is expected to report by mid-February next year – which is an incredibly short space of time to pore over a legalese-packed document that runs to nearly 300 pages long.
Its members include one-time Telegraph head of technology journalism Matt Warman, who became a Tory MP in May this year.
He also sits on the science and technology panel, which recently conducted a one-off session looking at some of the tech issues in the proposed legislation.
The Bishop of Chester will also sit on the committee to hear evidence for and against Home Secretary Theresa May's latest attempt to massively ramp up surveillance of Brits' online activity. He recently led a debate in the House of Lords in which he argued that pornography was damaging to society.
And, in July, following the publication of David Anderson's independent report on investigatory powers, the Bishop offered up this nugget:
On this much debated issue of whether there should be judicial or political authorisation of particular interceptions of data, it is a difficult one to call, but I tend to take the view that although there should be judicial involvement it should be an oversight of political decisions, rather than supplanting them. I say that for two reasons.
First, a much greater judicial involvement risks compromising the proper standing back and observing role that the judiciary should have. At the end of the day, the role of the judiciary is to be kept clear and distinct from the political process.
Always-on apps blindside Home Office
Earlier this week a number of small Blighty ISPs were briefed on the IPB by the Home Office.
Adrian Kennard, the boss of Andrews & Arnold, blogged about the meeting – noting that the Home Office responded to a number of key questions about the draft legislation with a "don't know" answer. One such example, which seemingly perplexed the government officials, was the police and spooks needing to know when a murder victim had last accessed Twitter. Apparently, that's where a so-called Internet Connection Record comes into play.
However, I, and other ISPA [Internet Service Providers' Association] members immediately pointed out the huge flaw in this argument. If the mobile provider was even able to tell that she [the murder victim] had used Twitter at all (which is not as easy as it sounds), it would show that the phone had been connected to Twitter 24 hours a day, and probably Facebook as well.
This is because the very nature of messaging and social media applications is that they stay connected so that they can quickly alert you to messages, calls, or amusing cat videos, without any delay.
It would seem that smaller ISPs will not face the same demands as their larger rivals in the UK. Kennard said that the group pressed the Home Office for more clarity on the face of the draft bill.
"They [the Home Office] basically said they already have retention orders with the large ISPs under the existing regime, and would expect to serve new orders only on them. They have already discussed with them what they could retain," he wrote.
Kennard added: "They even said that an ISP would not be expected to log things for which they don't have the capability, or to log any 'third party data', or 'over the top services'. From what we can tell, the logging of 'Internet Connection Records' would come from operators that have web proxies and/or GCNAT equipment. They also said they currently do 100 per cent cost recovery and intend to keep that the same."
On Monday, the Interception of Communications Commissioner's Office published a pie chart (PDF) showing a breakdown of police and local authorities' usage of communications data, based on 29 inspections by the watchdog since January this year.
It revealed that of 100,000 such requests submitted under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, around 80 per cent of them related to crime and disorder and six per cent fell under the "other" category, which includes terrorism and cyber crime offences. ®