Five questions answered on the new banking reforms

Are we right to jail reckless bankers?

The government has today said it will back most of the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Commission for Banking Standards (PCBS). We answer five questions on the plans for reform.

What key recommendations is the government planning on implementing?

The key changes are:

There will be a new criminal offence of reckless misconduct by top bankers resulting in a possible jail sentence.

If a bank has been bailed out bankers bonuses could be repayable. Bonuses are also to be deferred by up to 10 years.

If any bank breaks any rules, the burden of proof shall lie with the relevant senior bankers to show that they took all reasonable steps to stop it happening.

What recommendations are the government not taking up?

The government did not agree to employ a much tougher leverage ration for banks, limiting the total amount of loans and investments a bank can make relative to the amount of capital the bank holds in order to absorb losses on those assets.

This would ultimately toughen limits on banks’ risk taking.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has decided instead to stick to the lower level agreed and set out by the Bank for International Settlements in Basel.

The government has also refused to abolish its holding company for its stakes in Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group, called UK Financial Investments. It said: "UKFI is staffed by highly expert professionals with extensive experience in the banking sector".

What else has Osborne said?

Today he said: “The government is determined to raise standards across the banking industry to create a stronger and safer banking system.

“I am pleased to say that the government will implement its main recommendations. Where legislative changes are required we will amend the Banking Reform Bill which is currently before Parliament.

“Cultural reform in the banking sector marks the next step in the government’s plan to move the whole sector from rescue to recovery and ensure that UK banks demonstrate the highest standards, and are able to support business and drive economic growth.”

What other changes will be made?

The Prudential Regulation Authority, which is responsible for ensuring excess risks do not build up within the banking system, will be given an extra job of ensuring competition among banks.

Is the government considering any changes in the way the Royal Bank of Scotland is handled?

The government did say it would consider the PCBS’s suggestion of splitting the Royal Bank of Scotland into a ‘good’ high street bank - that can be quickly sold back to the private sector – and a ‘bad’ bank which should be kept and existing problematic loans worked out. 

Guests listen to speeches at the "Lord Mayor's Dinner to the Bankers and Merchants of the City of London" at Mansion House on June 19, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Heidi Vella is a features writer for

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7 problems with the Snooper’s Charter, according to the experts

In short: it was written by people who "do not know how the internet works".

A group of representatives from the UK Internet Service Provider’s Association (ISPA) headed to the Home Office on Tuesday to point out a long list of problems they had with the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill (that’s Snooper’s Charter to you and me). Below are simplified summaries of their main points, taken from the written evidence submitted by Adrian Kennard, of Andrews and Arnold, a small ISP, to the department after the meeting. 

The crucial thing to note is that these people know what they're talking about - the run the providers which would need to completely change their practices to comply with the bill if it passed into law. And their objections aren't based on cost or fiddliness - they're about how unworkable many of the bill's stipulations actually are. 

1. The types of records the government wants collected aren’t that useful

The IP Bill places a lot of emphasis on “Internet Connection Records”; i.e. a list of domains you’ve visited, but not the specific pages visited or messages sent.

But in an age of apps and social media, where we view vast amounts of information through single domains like Twitter or Facebook, this information might not even help investigators much, as connections can last for days, or even months. Kennard gives the example of a missing girl, used as a hypothetical case by the security services to argue for greater powers:

 "If the mobile provider was even able to tell that she had used twitter at all (which is not as easy as it sounds), it would show that the phone had been connected to twitter 24 hours a day, and probably Facebook as well… this emotive example is seriously flawed”

And these connection records are only going to get less relevant over time - an increasing number of websites including Facebook and Google encrypt their website under "https", which would make finding the name of the website visited far more difficult.

2. …but they’re still a massive invasion of privacy

Even though these records may be useless when someone needs to be found or monitored, the retention of Internet Connection Records (IRCs) is still very invasive – and can actually yield more information than call records, which Theresa May has repeatedly claimed are the non-digital equivalent of ICRs. 

Kennard notes: “[These records] can be used to profile them and identify preferences, political views, sexual orientation, spending habits and much more. It is useful to criminals as it would easily confirm the bank used, and the time people leave the house, and so on”. 

This information might not help find a missing girl, but could build a profile of her which could be used by criminals, or for over-invasive state surveillance. 

3. "Internet Connection Records" aren’t actually a thing

The concept of a list of domain names visited by a user referred to in the bill is actually a new term, derived from “Call Data Record”. Compiling them is possible, but won't be an easy or automatic process.

Again, this strongly implies that those writing the bill are using their knowledge of telecommunications surveillance, not internet era-appropriate information. Kennard calls for the term to be removed, or at least its “vague and nondescript nature” made clear in the bill.

4. The surveillance won’t be consistent and could be easy to dodge

In its meeting with the ISPA, the Home Office implied that smaller Internet service providers won't be forced to collect these ICR records, as it would use up a lot of their resources. But this means those seeking to avoid surveillance could simply move over to a smaller provider.

5. Conservative spin is dictating the way we view the bill 

May and the Home Office are keen for us to see the surveillance in the bill as passive: internet service providers must simply log the domains we visit, which will be looked at in the event that we are the subject of an investigation. But as Kennard notes, “I am quite sure the same argument would not work if, for example, the law required a camera in every room in your house”. This is a vast new power the government is asking for – we shouldn’t allow it to play it down.

6. The bill would allow our devices to be bugged

Or, in the jargon, used in the draft bill, subjected to “equipment interference”. This could include surveillance of everything on a phone or laptop, or even turning on its camera or webcam to watch someone. The bill actually calls for “bulk equipment interference” – when surely, as Kennard notes, “this power…should only be targeted at the most serious of criminal suspects" at most.

7. The ability to bug devices would make them less secure

Devices can only be subject to “equipment interference” if they have existing vulnerabilities, which could also be exploited by criminals and hackers. If security services know about these vulnerabilities, they should tell the manufacturer about them. As Kennard writes, allowing equipment interference "encourages the intelligence services to keep vulnerabilities secret” so they don't lose surveillance methods. Meanwhile, though, they're laying the population open to hacks from cyber criminals. 


So there you have it  – a compelling soup of misused and made up terms, and ethically concerning new powers. Great stuff. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.