Snooper's Charter returns as the Investigatory Powers Bill

Parliament building at night

The Snoopers Charter is officially back, after plans to update communications data laws were introduced in the Queen's Speech today.

Full details of the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill have yet to be revealed, with the speech merely mentioning that "new legislation will modernise the law on communications data".

However, the Conservative party has previously tried to push through the Communications Data Bill that would have required ISPs and web firms to hold meta data on customer communications for at least a year, among other changes.

That bill had been repeatedly blocked by the Liberal Democrat party during the last administration's coalition, but now that the Tories have a majority, the changes are expected to be pushed through.

Lobbying group Big Brother Watch suggested there may be little difference between the Communciations Data Bill and the Investigatory Powers Bill other than the names, with CEO Renate Samson saying "it will be interesting to see whether the content has radically changed".

A report from the BBC reveals that the new bill would give police "the tools to keep you and your family safe" and would "address gaps" in existing laws that put "lives at risk" by not giving authorities access to such data.

Number 10 told the BBC that the bill would "address ongoing capability gaps that are severely degrading the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to combat terrorism and other serious crime".

"The legislation covers all investigatory powers including communications data, where the government has long maintained that the gap in capabilities is putting lives at risk," the spokesperson continued, adding the law would "enable the continuation of the targeting of terrorist communications and other capabilities".

A report in the Guardian suggested the Conservative government plans to extend the scope of the bill beyond the previous version by strengthening the security services' powers to intercept communications in bulk - the very sort of activity highlighted by Edward Snowden's NSA whistleblowing.

More criticism

The bill faces the same criticism as its predecessor. Big Brother Watch's Samson said that there's as yet been no evidence shown that "there's a gap in the capability" of authorities to access communications data.

"We are also yet to see any concrete evidence that access to communications data has, and indeed will, make the country safer," Samson said. "The only evidence we have is of numerous failures to make effective use of the data already available."

"Any new draft legislation must acknowledge that the bigger the haystacks the harder it will be to find the needles," Samson added.

Yesterday, 38 prominent legal experts published an open letter urging MPs to take care with the new law.

"We hope that MPs, especially those newly elected to the Commons, will take heed of our warning that surveillance powers must be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny and must be proportionate," Signatory Andrew Murray, professor of law at the London School of Economics, told IT Pro at the time.

The Open Rights Group is asking supporters to contact MPs, saying "the Conservative majority is tiny, and we have allies within the Tory party such as David Davis who has been outspoken in his opposition".

It has a tool here to help you contact your MP to send a message about the forthcoming bill.

"By highlighting failings in the previous Parliament we hope MPs will be aware of the risks of failings in Parliamentary scrutiny and will take steps to educate themselves in this area," Murray said.