Britain’s mass surveillance law Investigative Powers Act

legal bill with electronic devices
I'll polish this up in July

The UK Government announced the draft UK Investigatory Powers Bill in November 2015. This bill will give the UK government more powers of surveillance over the UK internet. The UK government’s official rationale behind this bill is to stop terrorism and organized crime however, many tech industry analysts view this as camouflage for their true aim of mass surveillance of UK citizens. The re-drafted bill was presented in early March 2016 with many controversial powers still included in the bill despite criticism from experts, tech companies and the public.

How Will Internet Users Be Affected in The UK?

The UK Investigatory Powers bill will have the following impacts: 

  • Tech companies may be forced to install backdoors in their security
  • The police will be able to look at everyone’s entire internet history (known as Internet Connection Records or ICRs) including websites, social media sites and apps without requiring a search warrant
  • Internet service providers (ISPs) must hold on to the entire browsing history of all of their users for one year and hand them over to police when requested
  • Phone companies will be required to have ‘permanent capabilities’ to intercept and collect personal data passing over their networks
  • The police, tax officers, the Home Office and spies will be allowed to hack into and bug anyone’s computer or smartphone
  • Bulk collection of UK internet traffic will be explicitly allowed (American whistleblower Edward Snowden previously revealed that the UK’s GCHQ was already doing this)
  • UK spies will be allowed to hack into foreign computer networks
  • Makes explicit in law for the first time the powers of the security services and police to hack into and bug computers and phones. Places new legal obligation on companies to assist in these operations to bypass encryption.
  • New Home Office figures show there were 517,236 authorisations in 2014 of requests for communications data from the police and other public bodies as a result of 267,373 applications. There were 2,765 interception warrants authorised by ministers in 2014.

Why Are Tech Companies Opposed to This Bill?

Tech giants like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook have been outspoken in their criticisms and objections to internet surveillance bills like the UK Investigatory Powers Bill for various reasons including: 

  • Tech companies will be forced to remove end-to-end encryption for messaging apps like WhatsApp, iMessage and FaceTime when spies need it to
  • Tech companies fear that making ‘backdoors’ to their devices and encrypted software would compromise users’ security
  • Tech companies may be forced to break other countries’ laws in order to meet the UK’s powers such as hacking into their own devices worldwide
  • Tech companies will not be allowed to confirm or deny whether they assisted with a UK request to hack into a customer’s device which makes maintaining customer trust difficult

Jeff’s Opinion

I think the controversy associated with the UK Investigatory Powers Bill is based on whether you believe that government surveillance of the internet will stop terrorism and organized crime. On the one hand it seems logical to monitor potential suspects however, on the other hand, does the government really need the right to monitor everyone in the UK in order to achieve this? The tech industry is convinced that by loosening encryption and installing security backdoors, this may actually help organized crime, terrorists and rogue governments.

After one government is successful in forcing tech companies to break their security encryption and install backdoors, you are opening pandora’s box and many other governments (friendly or unfriendly) will be able to demand the same security backdoors. Unfortunately for UK internet users, it does not look like anything will stop the Investigatory Powers Bill from becoming law but hopefully, there will be further drafts of this bill that are less intrusive and dangerous for both UK internet users and the tech industry.

My opinion

Yes there is a terrorism threat in the UK. Britain has lots of different types of threats from lone wolfs and organisations that need to be tacked. For those that don’t know, the terror threat in the UK is severe.

But is mass survelliance really the answer? In my opinion, mass survelliance doesn’t work, because it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. The net is cast too far wide, for there to be the intended result to happen. However people need a right to privacy. People have sensitive information that they don’t want other people to know, such as.

  • Political beliefs
  • Employer
  • Income
  • Religion
  • Sexuality
  • Mental Health
  • Subcultures
  • Purchases
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Organisations they’re a part of
  • Customers
  • Supporters
  • Diseases
  • Gender
  • Domestic abuse
  • Likes and dislikes

Below is a list of the government organisations that will be able to see your internet browsing history, also known as an Internet Connection Record.

  • Metropolitan Police Service
  • City of London Police
  • Police forces maintained under section 2 of the Police Act 1996
  • Police Service of Scotland
  • Police Service of Northern Ireland
  • British Transport Police
  • Ministry of Defence Police
  • Royal Navy Police
  • Royal Military Police
  • Royal Air Force Police
  • Security Service
  • Secret Intelligence Service
  • GCHQ
  • Ministry of Defence
  • Department of Health
  • Home Office
  • Ministry of Justice
  • National Crime Agency
  • HM Revenue & Customs
  • Department for Transport
  • Department for Work and Pensions
  • NHS trusts and foundation trusts in England that provide ambulance services
  • Common Services Agency for the Scottish Health Service
  • Competition and Markets Authority
  • Criminal Cases Review Commission
  • Department for Communities in Northern Ireland
  • Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland
  • Department of Justice in Northern Ireland
  • Financial Conduct Authority
  • Fire and rescue authorities under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004
  • Food Standards Agency
  • Food Standards Scotland
  • Gambling Commission
  • Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority
  • Health and Safety Executive
  • Independent Police Complaints Commissioner
  • Information Commissioner
  • NHS Business Services Authority
  • Northern Ireland Ambulance Service Health and Social Care Trust
  • Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service Board
  • Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Regional Business Services Organisation
  • Office of Communications
  • Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland
  • Police Investigations and Review Commissioner
  • Scottish Ambulance Service Board
  • Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission
  • Serious Fraud Office
  • Welsh Ambulance Services National Health Service Trust

Do you really want ALL these government organisations to know all that stuff about you? When a person’s sensitive information is revealed to people it should not be privy to, the person loses their freedom, social standing and livelihood, even if they’ve done nothing wrong. Such sensitive information, if leaked or let known to the wrong person, can stop you from getting a job, or make you evicted from your home.

Now for something different, let’s ask for your opinion instead of giving a conclusion

Have you ever heard of the UK Investigatory Powers Act before? Did you know that the Conservative government was planning to have greater surveillance of the UK internet? Do you think that governments should be allowed to monitor all of our online activities or is this an invasion of privacy?

Further Reading

Government organisations that will be able to see your internet browsing history

Stop Watching Us

Investigatory powers bill: the key points

‘Extreme surveillance’ becomes UK law with barely a whimper

Theresa May unveils UK surveillance measures in wake of Snowden claims

Repeal the new Surveillance laws (Investigatory Powers Act)