United Kingdom – House of Lords has passed a highly-intrusive and debated Investigatory Powers Bill which will come into effect within few weeks after the assent of the Queen to be known as Investigatory Powers Act 2016. It seems UK has joined Russia and China in legalizing mass surveillance.
The Bill will give British government the unprecedented power not only to spy on its citizen but also virtually anywhere in the globe – comparable to China and Russia regimes.
The Investigatory Powers Bill will legalize all the long been carried illegal activities of the Government Communications Headquarter (GCHQ) spy agency of the UK including bulk collection of personal communications. It will also empower the police and GCHQ to hack into and install backdoors into electronic devices from mobile phones to baby monitors.
On the other hand, Internet and telecommunication service providers will be required to keep records of customers’ web activities and phone communications. The websites activity includes site visits, communication software used, mobile apps, and more.
Digital Privacy Advocate, Privacy International stated, “They are comparable to a compilation of call records, postal records, library records, study and research records, social and leisure activity records and location records, and will additionally capture concerns about health, sexual and family issues.”
The British MPs have warned the risks of damage to UK’s tech industry, and the pockets of citizens.
The Science & Technology Select Committee of the United Kingdom, who has been examining the technical aspects of the bill has raised concerns of tech companies and ISPs that the terminologies and wordings of the Investigatory Powers Bill are so vague and the estimated costs are likely to be far higher than government’s estimates.
The committee points out the unclear definition of the term ICR (Internet Connection Records) which is being cited repeatedly by the Home Secretary Theresa May that ISPs are required to capture and keep ICRs.
“The Bill was intended to provide clarity to the industry, but the current draft contains very broad and ambiguous definitions of ICRs,” said chair Nicola Blackwood of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. She adds the problems is not that the term isn’t defined, but it may not be definable at all.
Things are also not clear when it comes to the intentions of government regarding encryption. Where PM Theresa May, said she wouldn’t ban or limit end-to-end encryption, however, the bill empower the government to order, “the removal of electronic protection applied by a relevant operator to any communications or data.”
More worrying is that the committee isn’t calling for the clauses to be removed, instead, it says the government should ‘assure’ the industry it won’t seek out unencrypted content.
“Encryption is important in providing the secure services on the internet we all rely on, from credit card transactions and commerce to legal or medical communications,” Blackwood said. “The government needs to do more to allay unfounded concerns that encryption will no longer be possible.”
Meanwhile, the Investigatory Powers Act legitimizes the hacking of GCHQ. Not only it would oblige service providers to cooperate, they would be prohibited to disclose this action. And as the committee points out, it could sabotage the business model of open source companies like Mozilla.
Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, points, “The passing of the IP Bill will have an impact that goes beyond the UK’s shores. It is likely that other countries, including authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records, will use this law to justify their own intrusive surveillance powers.”
Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed his feelings on surveillance to be known. When Apple refused to unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, he made comments “I think security overall – we have to open it up.”
The British public seems apathetic in fighting the bill, and there won’t be any outcry unless any inevitable hacking of the database of any service provider takes place. Even then, the service provider will probably get the blame.
Extensive powers such as this bill, once granted, are rarely rescinded. And regardless of leaders, the fact is that you could have a lot worse coming.
Update: The Investigatory Powers Bill has received royal assent from the Queen to become Investigatory Powers Act 2016. You can protect your online identity and data by using a UK VPN service.