This is ORG's Policy Update for the week beginning 26/10/2015
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Parliamentary Debates and Questions
Questions on Cybersecurity and Encryption
Lord Strasburger asked Baroness Shield, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, whether the Government have plans to weaken encryption standards or introduce back doors to enable access to websites and Internet services. Baroness Shield responded that this is not the intention of Government, however raised the issue of end-to-end encryption, stating that companies must be able to decrypt the messages of their users to allow the Government access when requested.
Question on data protection on the Internet
Tim Farron MP asked how the online privacy and security of citizens were being protected. John Hayes MP responded that this would be addressed in the draft Investigatory Powers Bill that would published shortly.
The draft Investigatory Powers Bill should be published next week for pre-legislative scrutiny, according to reports. The Bill is reported to include provisions requiring ISPs and telecoms providers to store weblogs (the browsing history of all users) for twelve months, and allowing the police and intelligence services access to this data. This measure has been criticised by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, who highlights that no other Western nations require this data to be held.
It has also been reported that the Bill will retain the current system of ministers signing off warrants rather than requiring judicial authorisation or a hybrid system, as had been recommended by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation and Royal United Services Institute respectively. Judicial oversight will only be permitted retrospectively, focussing on existing warrants. This is similar to current judicial audit measures which have been criticised for limiting scrutiny of government actions.
MEPs ban Internet filtering but reject net neutrality safeguards
The European Parliament has voted through the Telecoms Single Market legislative package in a form that has implications for Internet filtering and net neutrality. MEPs have been criticised as only 50 out of 751 attended the debate before the vote.
The legislation requires all Internet traffic to be treated equally "regardless of content", which effectively bans ISP Internet filters. In agreement with the Government, UK ISPs adopted adult content filters in 2013 and these filters have been criticised for being opt-out rather than opt-in and for blocking genuine websites, such as small businesses and advice websites for young people.
The European legislation does permit exceptional web blocking in order "to comply with Union or national legislation related to the lawfulness of content" and David Cameron has stated that he will formally "legislate to put our agreement with internet companies on this issue into the law of the land so that our children will be protected". Any legislation will be open to challenge as it will need to be compliant with European law, and there is likely to be strong debate surrounding the compatibility of default Internet filtering with freedom of expression rights under Article 11 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
MEPs also rejected proposed amendments to the legislation that were aimed at closing loopholes that could threaten net neutrality. While stating Internet traffic must be treated equally, the legislation allows ISPs to prioritise "specialised services". While there are limits on what falls within the classification and a ban on restricting the open Internet and bandwidth for other users, the legislation also permits "zero rating", which exempts certain sites from data limits, giving them an advantage over other non-zero rated sites. Concerns have been raised about the impact of this on innovation, as it could disadvantage new and smaller organisations.
European Parliament raises concerns about mass surveillance and calls on member states to drop charges against Edward Snowden
MEPs voted 285 to 281 in favour of dropping criminal charges against whistleblower Edward Snowden, granting him protection and preventing extradition. The vote has been described as symbolic as it has no legal force and acts only as a request to member states, who retain ultimate authority for such decisions. Snowden has welcomed the vote, however the US has reiterated its intention to prosecute him on felony charges should he return.
In the same vote, the European Parliament has raised concerns about surveillance activities in some member states, including the UK, and, following the CJEU's recent Safe-Harbor judgment, has urged the Commission to ensure an "effective level of protection" for EU citizens where their data is to be transferred to the US.
ORG Media coverage
See ORG Press Coverage for full details.
- 2015-10-29 – The Register - UK ministers, not judges, to sign off on Brit spies' surveillance
- Author: Alexander J Martin
- Summary: Jim Killock quoted on plans to retain ministerial authorisation for surveillance and interception warrants.
- 2015-10-28 – Bit-tech - European Parliament rejects TSM net neutrality amendments
- Author: Gareth Halfacree
- Summary: Jim Killock quoted on the EU Telecoms Single Market Regulation, criticising the legislation for being "unclear and ambiguous".
- 2015-10-27 – Business Insider UK - The European Parliament just dealt a major blow to net neutrality
- Author: Rob Price
- Summary: ORG mentioned in article on European Parliament net neutrality vote.