IP Bill: your computer is my computer
The Investigatory Powers Act is “an absolute disgrace to both privacy and freedom”
New government legislation has ushered in an era of surveillance that will impact how individuals and business across the UK share data.
The Investigatory Powers Act (IP Bill), which came into effect on 1 January 2017, has made the U.K.’s daily internet surfing common knowledge among government and non-government organisations – something that had previously been ruled unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights.
Baroness Jenny Jones, a Green Party member of the House of Lords, said on 16 November 2016 ahead of the bill receiving Royal ascent: “Parliament has given our security services unprecedented powers to spy on us.”
At least 48 government bodies will have access to internet search records without requiring a warrant. These include: the security services (MI6 and MI5), the GCHQ, and National Crime Agency, plus the Food Standards Agency, Gambling Commission, Health and Safety Executive, NHS and numerous other non-crime prevention government organisations.
“It’s insane this hasn’t been made into a bigger deal – the public is only now just waking up to it and it’s too late,” said Jim Kilock of the Open Rights Group, which campaigns on ensuring internet privacy.
A second piece of legislation is set to follow in the IP Bill’s footsteps to buttress the act in 2017.
The Digital Economy Bill is being pushed through almost as quickly as the IP Bill, and will include worthy amendments to the improvement of internet speeds and improving online public services, but will also contain costly provisions.
Jail terms for online copyright infringements will be increased from two years to ten, the government will be able to obtain and share consumer data, and there will be a mandatory age verification scheme for adult websites, with all users proving they are over the age of 18.
What does it all mean? The right to internet privacy is removed, essentially making the U.K. public the legally most spied on citizens in the democratic world.
The right to privacy is a fundamental human right. Article 8 of the human rights act states: “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”
The Investigatory Powers Bill removes the right of privacy from every U.K. citizen. Communications and browsing activities are no longer reserved to individual users, but instead open to any and all government organisations. This includes: Internet browsing, emails sent, messenger and application communications, videos watched, music listened to, files downloaded, phone calls made and receivec, and sms messages sent and received. All are now a single click away from the government’s fingertips.
The United Nations privacy chief called the bill, “Worse than scary”. CIA whistle-blower, Edward Snowed – whose revelations in 2013 could be the last of its kind as journalistic sources and whistle-blowers have no protection under the new bill – called it: “The most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy.”
The Labour Party, Greens, Liberal Democrats, SNP, and local governments originally put forward strong objections to the bill. Joanna Cherry QC, MP for Edinburgh South West and the SNP spokesperson on Justice and Home Affairs, stated: “The SNP believe that law enforcement and the intelligence and security services should have necessary and proportionate powers to fight serious crime and terrorism. However, we also believe that, in order to protect civil liberties, surveillance should be targeted, with warrants from courts that ensure they are focused, specific and based on reasonable suspicion. Oversight and safeguards should also be strong and independent of government.
“In committee the SNP tabled numerous amendments to try to achieve these principles as a thread running throughout the Bill and to remove those parts which were unjustifiable. Not one was accepted,” she continued.
These concerns never turned into real opposition. The combination of a civil war between different factions within the Labour party, the SNP’s geographical constraints, and the UK’s shock decision to leave the European Union meant the bill was never given politicians’ – or the country’s – full attention, instead passing through government with relative ease.
The scope of the new law will reach far beyond the UK’s borders, and the knock-on effects will likely be felt in counties around the world. Taken as a whole, the Investigatory Powers Bill will reshape the concept of private civil society and change the way people use the internet.
“This is an absolute disgrace to both privacy and freedom,” said Tom Skillinger in an online petition to repeal the act that received over 100,000 signatures. “It only made it through due to it being snuck past the population in relative secrecy.”