Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigators will soon gain new powers under the so-called “Snoopers' Charter” and be allowed to access suspects' browsing history in the preceding 12 months as well as telephone usage data under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016.
The Act, which received royal assent on 29 November 2016, will give the regulators and authorities the power to obtain Internet connection data from service providers such as websites visited, social media activity and information about when emails were sent.
However, this element of the Act has been postponed due to the lack of certainty over the safe collection of that type of information. The Government and the Internet companies need to co-operate to develop procedures and security systems. The Home Office stated, that it is during the development of plans for implementing the provisions and will set out the timetable “in due course”.
The existing legislation, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) allows the HSE to access certain types of data, such as the name and address of a subscriber to a mobile phone number and their telephone bills. This data allows to distinguish “who, where, when and how” in a communication but not its content.
Along with the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the police, Government agencies such as the Food Standards Agency, Gambling Commission and Competition and Markets Authority, the HSE will be able to access these records upon an issue of a warrant. An HSE spokesperson said on this matter, that the regulator only uses its current powers provided by RIPA “sparingly”. According to the provided information, in 2016 the HSE only made five requests for RIPA communications data.
A typical example of the use of communications data powers by HSE is to “identify the full name and address of an individual who has carried out illegal gas work where only a first name and mobile phone number is known. This is in order to allow the action to be taken to prevent them carrying out future illegal and potentially dangerous gas work”.
The public authorities were told, that to be able to access the communications data they would need to apply to the Home Office for a warrant. Lawful use of this data will be overseen by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner who will be a senior judge. This role will be created under the new Act.
This Act will also amend the Environmental Protection Act 1990, to give similar powers to the Environment Agency.