The Investigatory Powers Bill, nicknamed the Snooper’s Charter, has been passed by Parliament, courting controversy with some privacy campaigners calling it the “most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy”.
The UK has just legalized the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes farther than many autocracies. https://t.co/yvmv8CoHrj
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) November 17, 2016
The legislation allows for a variety of electronic spying techniques, including access to phone records and collection of electronic data.
The aim of the bill is to help assist on the investigation of criminal and terrorist activity, but the scale of the access to citizen’s browsing history and app use has alarmed many privacy advocates.
The House of Lords has now also passed the Investigatory Powers Bill (IP Bill), putting the new spying powers on their way to becoming law within weeks.
The IP Blll requires internet, phone and communication app companies to store records for 12 months and allow authorities or law enforcement officials to access them on demand.
The bill has been fought against by privacy campaigners and technology companies including Apple and Twitter.
However, the Government has worked to continue to pass the bill, despite objections from those companies that the legislation is not possible to enforce and would make customers unsafe.
The key aspects of the new IP Bill are as follows:
• All Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and telecoms companies in the UK must keep records of everyone’s communication data related to browsing history, phone calls, text messages, gaming, social media activity, Instant Messages and chat apps for 12 months.
• Access to this data would then be provided to the Police, the intelligence agencies,
HMRC, and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, with the potential to expand to other bodies at any time.
• The tax-payer cost to implement this level of surveillance is estimated at £1.8bn, but this could rise.
The House of Lords’ agreement to the text now means that it just awaits Royal Assent, at which point it will become law.
The IP Bill also gives the intelligence agencies the power to hack into computers and devices of citizens (known as equipment interference), although some protected professions, such as journalists and medical staff, are given marginally better protections.
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.
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 slated 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.
Jim Killock, director of the Open Rights Group, said the move was the “most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy.”
— Jim Killock (@jimkillock) November 17, 2016
The bill was first introduced in 2012 by then Home Secretary, and now Prime Minister, Theresa May. Since then, it has failed twice to get passed, as the House of Lords refused to send it along without further modifications. The bill has now been passed by both houses.