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Controversial snoopers charter receives royal assent despite risk to legal privilege

The controversial Investigatory Powers Bill received Royal Assent this week, after being passed by both houses of parliament earlier this month. This was despite the fact that signatures on a petition calling for it to be repealed passed the 130,000 mark, meaning that it must be considered for parliamentary debate.

The bill, which will govern all of the powers available to law enforcement, the security and intelligence agencies and the armed forces to acquire communications from the public, was amended during a third reading of the bill in the House of Lords earlier this month to appease some concerns over legal privilege.

The amendments give greater protection to legally privileged material accidently caught in a legitimate search, by making them subject to a ‘public interest’ test.

The safeguards were included in amendments to clause 56 of the bill, incorporated during the third reading of the bill at the end of October and put forward by Minister of State for Defence Earl Howe.

In November Law Society president Robert Bourns said: ‘Legal professional privilege is at the heart of the solicitor-client relationship, as it gives our clients the assurance that they can discuss in confidence the most intimate details of their private and professional lives.’

‘Anything which undermines this trust is a serious concern, which is why we are pleased the government has agreed to sensible changes to the bill to strengthen protections.’

‘While these protections are not as comprehensive as the legal community felt was appropriate, the government’s response is still a significant improvement from where the bill started.’

‘With the number of moves to weaken the protection of legal professional privilege we have seen this year – both inadvertent and deliberate – the Law Society will remain vigilant to ensure that this core principle of our justice system is maintained.’

The new surveillance law requires web and phone companies to store the public’s web browsing histories for 12 months and gives police, security services and official agencies unhindered access to the data. It also means that security services and police will be able to hack into computers and phones and collect masses of information.