Following a year of steady criticism from privacy advocates and tech experts, The House of Lords has passed the Investigatory Powers Bill.
The bill, dubbed the ‘Snoopers Charter’, was first introduced in 2015 by the then Home Secretary, now Primer Minister, Theresa May.
“The most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy” – Edward Snowden
In a report by International Business Times, it is said that the bill, soon to become a law will effectively provide the British Government with sweeping spying and hacking powers over its citizens. Throughout 2016, tech giants including Apple and Twitter have been pushing back on legalising the Snoopers Charter, which delivers the British Government the power to hack into devices, networks and servers legally.
Notorious NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden has named the bill as “the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy”. According to WIRED, the UN’s privacy rapporteur, Joseph Cannataci, had previously commented that the bill was “worse than scary”. According to IBTimes, the EFF had previously said that the bill is “a carefully crafted loophole wide enough to drive all of the existing mass surveillance practice through”.
How will we feel the effects?
The bill provides the UK government and its security services with powerful mass surveillance powers. It also provides the government with the ability to force tech companies to comply with orders to hack into users’ devices to assist law enforcement authorities in accessing user data.
Additionally, a clause in the bill, Section 217 of the draft Code of Practice on Interception of Communications, would force tech firms into handing over advance access to any new products or services set to be launched in the UK. This would enable UK intelligence and security agencies to intercept sensitive data, as soon as products hit the market.
“The most intrusive system of any democracy in human history.”
The bill would also allow police forces to hack into devices and remotely obtain data. The MI5, GCHQ, Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Ministry of Defence would all be granted with advanced hacking powers, however, they would have to obtain warrants granted by the secretary of state.
Snoopers charter will also enforce communications service providers to store user meta data for 12 months. This data will also be accessible to police forces when conducting investigations. Alarmingly, police forces will also be allowed to access “bulk personal datasets” from a “majority of individuals” that have not been suspected of any wrong-doing, yet are part of the mass data collection, IBTimes reports.
Snoopers charter provides security agencies with the ability to look into metadata of journalists, doctors, lawyers, religious ministers and even MPs. Although authorities would be restricted in knowing the actual conversations, they would still be able to find out the length of the conversation and the time and location as well.
The bill will come into effect after receiving a Royal Assent, which is likely to be granted by the end of the year. Starting 2017, when snoopers charter will likely become law, the UK government will effectively have one of the most advanced and intrusive surveillance laws in the world.
What is social media saying?
A large number of journalists and privacy commentators, Edward Snowden among them have lambasted the decision, with some likening the new laws to those of the Soviet Union.
Liberty, a charitable organisation, which focuses on safeguarding civil liberties and protecting human rights was one of the first to respond, arguing that the bill is “the most intrusive system of any democracy in human history.” In a longer statement Liberty profess their outrage that the law gives the government the “ability to indiscriminately hack, intercept, record, and monitor the communications and internet use of the entire population.”
“It has the ability to indiscriminately hack, intercept, record, and monitor the communications and internet use of the entire population.” – Bella Sankey, Policy Director for Liberty
A number of other publications have also commented alongside declarations from a range of hacker forums which have denounced the charter.