Investigatory Powers Bill

Written evidence submitted by Sir David Pepper KCMG (IPB 71)

1. I was the Director of GCHQ from 2003 to 2008, and spent almost all my career at GCHQ. I am writing to support the Bill, and in particular to address some of the objections to the bulk powers.

2. Interception in its various forms lies at the heart of much of the work of the security and intelligence agencies. It is essential for our national security that they should be able to continue to use it effectively as technology advances and as public expectations of transparency change. The purpose of this legislation is a matter not of giving the Agencies new capabilities, but of providing a modern framework that will enable them to continue to use their existing ones in the new environment. I therefore welcome the Bill, and judge that as currently drafted it preserves the necessary capabilities while strengthening oversight in a way that should not damage the Agencies’ ability to use them.

3. I would like to comment specifically on the issue of the requirement for bulk powers. Bulk collection and analysis techniques have for many years been central to the Agencies’ efforts against many serious threats, and most importantly against terrorism and serious crime. The Home Office paper "Operational Case for Bulk Powers" describes examples of the results of their use, and Lord Evans in his oral evidence gave a very clear illustration of how they are used. Without them, it would be impossible to work from specific leads to develop knowledge of terrorist or criminal networks with the speed and reach that the Agencies have developed. Their loss would do very serious damage to their ability to protect British citizens.

4. Two main lines of attack on the need for these powers have to be countered. The first, as set out by Mr William Binney, asserts that bulk collection results in the Agencies being overwhelmed by excessive volumes of largely irrelevant material. It is possible that Mr Binney is basing his comments on a situation he observed before he left the US National Security Agency in 2001, but his analysis is completely misleading in the current UK context. The techniques that we have developed over many years allow for the effective collection of these large volumes and for their targeted analysis in the intelligent search for connections and networks. The examples and statistics quoted in the Home Office paper demonstrate that far from being overwhelmed, the agencies are able to make effective use of the collected data and have had regular successes. Mr Binney’s proposed approach of targeted collection would make it impossible to work backwards and outwards from the discovery of a new threat to uncover the mesh of past and present communications that reveal the structure of threat networks and the identity of their members.

5. The second type of attack involves assertions that the Agencies use these powers to study large numbers or random selections of British citizens, building profiles of them or analysing their behaviour. This is pure fantasy. Existing and proposed controls forbid such activity: I can speak from first-hand experience in GCHQ in saying that the existing controls are tightly written and rigorously enforced, both by local managers and by central oversight. Moreover, the commitment of staff to the mission of protecting their fellow citizens is such that they have not the slightest interest in diverting attention from the most urgent threats, not least because they know there are many other real threats that resource limitations have pushed below the priority threshold. They know that the sort of activity hypothesised by some objectors would be disproportionate and ineffective and would require enormous resources.

6. It is impossible to have both perfect security and complete privacy in our current circumstances. The test of the Bill must be whether it achieves the right balance. In my view its proposals do so. They will allow the Agencies to continue to use their current capabilities as the environment develops, as long as the control systems continue to operate in a way that allows them to work with the necessary speed and flexibility to cope with urgent and rapidly developing threats. The simplification of the legislative structure, the strengthened oversight regimes and the increased visibility of the powers and processes should give the confidence the public need that their security is being protected without unreasonable intrusion on their privacy.

Sir David Pepper KCMG

Director GCHQ, 2003-2008

April 2016


Prepared 28th April 2016