We've written a few times in the past year about the latest UK efforts to enact its "Snooper's Charter"
law, officially the Investigatory Powers Bill, which would give the government much greater surveillance capabilities. Right after last year's election, Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Office Secretary Theresa May made it clear
that they were going to go full Orwell, and do whatever possible to grant themselves greater powers to spy on everyone. As more concerns were raised, we noted that the government pretended
to back down, while still including all the bad stuff
As more and more complaints about the bill were raised, we noted May decided to try to rush the bill through
, along with a healthy dose of "if you don't do this we're all going to die!" FUD. That included releasing a new draft of the bill, which pretended to address the privacy concerns people raised, but which did so basically by just adding the word "privacy" to a heading
and making no substantive changes to protect privacy at all (and possibly changes that made things worse).
Rest assured that a lot
of people are seriously uncomfortable with all of this
. A group of over 200 leading lawyers in the UK have sent a letter slamming the bill
At present the draft law fails to meet international standards for surveillance powers. It requires significant revisions to do so.
First, a law that gives public authorities generalised access to electronic communications contents compromises the essence of the fundamental right to privacy and may be illegal. The investigatory powers bill does this with its “bulk interception warrants” and “bulk equipment interference warrants”.
Second, international standards require that interception authorisations identify a specific target – a person or premises – for surveillance. The investigatory powers bill also fails this standard because it allows “targeted interception warrants” to apply to groups or persons, organisations, or premises.
Third, those who authorise interceptions should be able to verify a “reasonable suspicion” on the basis of a factual case. The investigatory powers bill does not mention “reasonable suspicion” – or even suspects – and there is no need to demonstrate criminal involvement or a threat to national security.
These are international standards found in judgments of the European court of justice and the European court of human rights, and in the recent opinion of the UN special rapporteur for the right to privacy. At present the bill fails to meet these standards – the law is unfit for purpose.
Meanwhile, internet service providers, tech companies, and civil liberties groups have asked the government to delay moving forward
with the bill, but it does not appear that May has any interest in doing so.
On Tuesday, the House of Commons had its "Second Reading" of the bill, and the debate about it
allowed some to raise concerns, but with various parties deciding to abstain from voting
, rather than vote against it, the bill moved forward easily (it'll come back to Parliament after the House of Lords goes through the bill). Even worse, the main "opposition" to the bill was not that strongly raised
Andy Burnham, former Home Office minister, stood to offer the Labour party's official perspective. If there is substantive opposition to the contents of the IP Bill within the Labour party - and I know there is from MPs like Tom Watson and David Winnick - then there was little evidence of it from Mr Burnham's contribution to the debate. He opened by trotting out the dire need to combat the four horsemen of the infocalypse and the false and distorting 'balance security with privacy' dichotomy. From those foundations he was highly unlikely to get anywhere enlightened.
While we're fighting against backdoors and for encryption here in the US, it looks like the UK government is potentially moving very much in the other direction.