from the surfing-the-internet-with-The-Man dept
Despite loudly, and repeatedly, raised concerns from activists and members of Parliament, the UK’s Snooper’s Charter (a.k.a., Investigatory Powers bill [PDF]) has been passed by both parliamentary houses and only needs the formality of the royal signature to make it official.
These are the fantastic new things UK citizens have to look forward to with this expansion of government surveillance power.
The law will force internet providers to record every internet customer’s top-level web history in real-time for up to a year, which can be accessed by numerous government departments; force companies to decrypt data on demand — though the government has never been that clear on exactly how it forces foreign firms to do that that; and even disclose any new security features in products before they launch.
The list of new powers doesn’t end with these. UK intelligence agencies are also given permission to perform “electronic interference” — hack into computers and electronic devices belonging to UK citizens, not just individually, but in bulk. It also codifies secret (and illegal) surveillance of UK citizens that the country’s intelligence agencies have engaged in for years without proper authority or oversight.
The government, of course, is trying to portray this as nothing more than a fine tuning of preexisting laws, specifically the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). Glossed over in its perfunctory “nothing to see here” explanation is the fact that RIPA was also rushed into existence to codify other secret and illegal surveillance programs.
But it’s no ordinary update of existing investigatory laws. Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group calls the Snooper’s Charter “the most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy.” Thanks to the new powers, UK intelligence agencies should be able to put together very extensive dossiers on pretty much anyone they feel like.
This is the collection of Internet Connection Records (ICRs)—a record of which services every citizen it is connecting to, logged in real-time. This unprecedented level of micro-surveillance is accompanied by a machine to make sense of the mass of data, called a ‘Filter’, but is in essence, a search engine. It can match these ICRs with your mobile phone location data and call histories. It can, we believe, be used to profile the social relationships and the sexual and political activities of every U.K. citizen.
That’s how the UK government wants it, apparently: porn filtered out, but spy agencies let in.
Beyond the expansion of law enforcement and surveillance powers is the precedent set by the government in its continual codification of secret surveillance programs. Like RIPA before it, the new law sends a message to intelligence and law enforcement agencies that all misdeeds will ultimately be legislatively forgiven by their overseers. Agencies are implicitly invited to hide programs from overseers and explore new collection techniques without running it past anyone else in the government first. And years later, it will all be papered over by “updated laws.”
This is also good news for other Five Eyes surveillance partners. The NSA and GCHQ’s information sharing partnership means the US agency now has access to even more data on British citizens. Almost anything GCHQ can acquire, the NSA can access. And now GCHQ can access more than ever.