The IPB was drafted by UK Prime Minister Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, submitted to parliament last November, and approved by the House of Commons on 7 June. It would grant authorities vast powers to intercept, gather, and store the communications data of tens of millions of people, including whistleblowers, journalists, and their sources. RSF has described the IPB as a possible “death sentence” for investigative journalism, which depends directly on the safety, and often on the anonymity, of sources.
Having concluded the report stage at the House of Lords, the bill is now in its final stages, and will undergo a third reading on 31 October. Despite adopting an extensive series of amendments, peers failed to respond to many of the concerns voiced by civil society. The bill does not sufficiently protect journalists, and retains provisions that threaten journalists’ ability to protect the confidentiality of their sources. This becomes even more menacing considering the bill’s failure to require authorities to systematically give prior notice to journalists when they plan to obtain their communications data or hack into their devices.
Further, some of the amendments adopted by the House of Lords have made the already problematic bill even more damaging for press freedom. The bill now contains a provision aimed at forcing the government to implement Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 – which RSF also considers threatening to press freedom – that would require media outlets which refuse to sign up to a state-approved regulator to bear the costs of any claims filed against them, regardless of merit.
“The Investigatory Powers Bill remains extremely threatening, particularly for investigative journalism, and is even more worrying when viewed in the context of other recent moves by the UK authorities against press freedom. The bill should be rejected, and this broader alarming trend must be immediately reversed in line with the UK’s press freedom obligations”, said Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s UK Bureau Director.
The IPB would replace the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). If adopted during the third reading at the House of Lords, the bill would then go back to the House of Commons, which would consider the amendments made by the House of Lords. It would become law once it receives Royal Assent.
The United Kingdom is ranked 38th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.