Draft Investigatory Powers Bill: a jargon-buster

Posted by Silkie Carlo on 17 February 2016

The 300-page Draft Investigatory Powers Bill is so filled with technical jargon that the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee labelled it “confusing”. Here, we break down the language barrier that shields this crucial piece of legislation from much-needed public scrutiny.

Bulk personal dataset – a collection of data acquired by intelligence agencies containing personal information including religion, ethnic origin, sexuality, political opinions, and health information on a wide range of individuals, indiscriminately, up to a population level. These bulk datasets are analysed to flag up people of interest.

Bulk surveillance – the collection of large volumes of information indiscriminately on large groups of people.

Communications data – the who, what, where and when of communications. This data reveals who contacted whom, by what means, at what time and where they contacted them from. This is sometimes referred to as “metadata”. 

Computer Network Exploitation (CNE) / equipment interference / hacking – breaking into a computer. Once its security has been breached, a hacker can take control of the computer, phone, tablet or other internet-connected device and its contents.

Dark web – publicly visible websites that hide the IP addresses of their servers using anonymity software such as Tor. The Dark Web is infamous for websites selling drugs, weapons and child pornography, but sites like Facebook also have a presence there.

Deep web – the sites on the web that aren’t reachable by a search engine. These unindexed sites include the Dark Web, as well as content like registration-required web forums and dynamically-created pages like your Gmail account.

Encryption – the process of encoding information so that you must have a ‘key’ or password in order to access it.

Extraterritoriality – exemption from local laws (this most commonly applies to places like foreign embassies or military bases) or the exercise of legal authority by a government beyond its normal boundaries.

Five Eyes – an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. These countries cooperate on signals intelligence.

Intercept – this takes place when a communications system is modified so that the content of a communication can be seen by someone other than sender or intended recipient.  It can happen in real time or at a later date. Interception means the content is made available – no-one needs to read, look at or listen to it for interception to occur.

Internet of things – the network of objects, from phones to fridges, cars and thermostats, connected to the internet.

Internet connection records (ICRs) – the records collected by a service provider of a person’s internet connections, most notably their browsing history.

Investigatory Powers Commissioner (IPC) – a role proposed by the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill. The IPC would be a senior judge and would oversee how surveillance powers are used. Their role would include reviewing surveillance warrants issued by Ministers and chief constables, publishing guidance on how powers should be used, and informing the public about their use. They would be appointed directly by the Prime Minister for renewable three-year terms.

Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) – the body that hears challenges against the use of surveillance. The secretive IPT is not required to hold oral hearings, is not allowed to explain its findings if it finds against an applicant, and there is currently no right of appeal against its rulings – although the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill proposes to create one. 

Internet service provider (ISP) – a company that provides a service to allow people to access the internet.

IP address – a number assigned to an internet-connected device. It reveals the name of the network the device is connected to and its location.

Judicial Commissioner – a role proposed by the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill to review surveillance warrants authorised by ministers. They would be appointed directly by the Prime Minister for renewable three-year terms.

Official Secrets Act – an Act of Parliament under which it is a criminal offence for those exposed to sensitive information, such as civil servants or members of the security services, to disclose that information without authorisation.

PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act) – this law sets out the rules governing police practice and includes special procedures that must be followed if law enforcement agencies wish to access confidential journalistic material. It requires them to make application to a judge in order to access such material.

Targeted surveillance – the surveillance of a specific individual or premises linked to suspected wrongdoing, as opposed to bulk, mass or ‘thematic’ surveillance of everyone.

Tor – an anonymous internet browser which uses a network of volunteer-operated servers to encrypt users’ online activity. It works by connecting a user to a website through a series of virtual tunnels rather than making a direct connection, disguising their IP address under layers of encryption.

Virtual Private Network (VPN) – allows users to send and receive information across shared or public networks as if their devices were securely connected to a private network.

Wilson Doctrine – in 1966 then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson told the House of Commons “there was to be no tapping of the telephones of Members of Parliament”. He added that if it became necessary to tap MPs’ phones, he would inform the House. The doctrine was reaffirmed by successive governments, until in 2015 the Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled that the Doctrine was not legally binding and should not prevent the intelligence agencies from targeting parliamentarians.