The draft Investigatory Powers Bill was laid before Parliament on Wednesday and leading political figures have already been attempting to calm fears surrounding the so-called 'snooper's charter'. The bill will govern - and strengthen - the powers available to law enforcement, the security and intelligence agencies and the armed forces to acquire the content of communications or communications data.
A "double-lock" approach is being proposed, which would require a judge to approve an interception warrant signed by the Secretary of State. The Attorney-General, writing in The Times on Thursday, reassured that the provisions will provide sufficient civil liberties safeguards, although he acknowledged that the approval of a judicial commissioner would not be required in "urgent cases". Theresa May in a Commons statement on Wednesday said that it was a departure from the heavily criticised 'snooper's charter' – blocked by the Liberal Democrats during the last government - and will provide "some of the strongest protections and safeguards anywhere in the democratic world and an approach that sets new standard for openness, transparency and oversight".
There is concern, especially in light of recent uses of RIPA against journalists and the seizure of a Newsnight journalist's laptop under the Terrorism Act, as to how the new powers will apply to journalistic sources.
A code of practice will be written into statute, ensuring that safeguards are in place before any interception warrant is authorised that involves confidential information relating to sensitive professions such as journalists. However applications to the judicial commissioner can be made without the knowledge of the media organisation concerned, meaning that public interest and press freedom arguments for maintaining source protection will not be put forward, which can only be properly done by the media organisation involved.
The Attorney General has stated that the draft bill has a "long way to go" before being passed into law. "In that time, I would urge the legal profession to engage with the content and make their views known", he said.