People who signed that petition – you’re too late. The Investigatory Powers Act has just been given Royal Assent, meaning that UK Government is soon to become one of the most advanced surveillance states on the planet.
After 12 months of debate, both the House of Lords and House of Commons passed the IP Bill – which dramatically overhauls the powers that intelligence services have to digitally spy on you.
Of course, the Home Office were proud of their work, calling this a “landmark Bill which sets out and governs the powers available to police, security and intelligence agencies to gather and access electronic communications.” They go on to say the Bill “brings together and updates existing powers while radically overhauling how they are authorised and overseen.”
So, we’ve highlighted some key points of the bill – from forcing internet service providers to keep a history of your visited websites, to the list of agencies who can access this data without a formal warrant.
But how will what has been described by petition creator Tom Skillinger as an “absolute disgrace to both privacy and freedom” affect you? Let’s highlight some key issues:
To bring in this new era of digital surveillance, the Home Office will introduce new job roles – the Commissioner and Judicial Commissioners (all of whom will be appointed by Theresa May or whoever the serving Prime Minister is at the time) – to approve warrants and oversee any problems from being given this new power.
"The Commissioner will report publicly and make recommendations on what he finds in the course of his work," original bill guidance states (page 6). "He will also publish guidance when it is required on the proper use of investigatory powers."
Some people see this as a good impartial balance to restrict the power, others see this as a way to use this power outside of the current legal, judicial system.
They call it “equipment interference” in part 5, chapter 2 of the IP Bill, but the powers described show that security services now have the clearance to hack into computers, mobile devices, servers, networks and more.
This includes anything from hacking an unattended/stolen mobile phone, to keystroke tracking software.
Any other equipment with increased complexity could be hacked by “exploiting existing vulnerabilities in software in order to gain control of devices or networks to remotely extract material or monitor the user of the device,” according to the draft code of conduct.
And who gets this power? Police forces and intelligence services can get into your computer (after getting a warrant approved by the above Commissioner).
But the above powers grow exponentially when you add chapter 3 of the IP Bill into the mix – otherwise known as “Bulk Equipment Interference.” Because it’s not just Britons at risk, the potential to be hacked by our government crosses the entire globe.
According to the code of practice, intelligence agencies now have permission to gather data from “a large number of devices in the specified area” of suspected criminal activity. No size of region is specified, making it highly likely that innocent people’s data will be collected in the large-scale hack.
Same as above, this action is always pending a warrant signed by the Commissioner.
I highlighted this in a previous article, so will not dive too far into it.
Simply put, security and police will be able to access communications data to aid their investigations – meaning your “Internet Connection Records” will be stored for a whole 12 months.
And by records, they mean everything – internet history, messenger history, use of postal services via the internet – all of which has the metadata to know the who, what, when and where of every page you visit.
That means your ISP records will show you visited newrisingmedia.com to read this story, on this day at this very specific time on the device you’re holding.
Warrants are again required to obtain this information.
Bulk Data Sets
Under part 7 of the IP Bill, intelligence agencies will be able to obtain and process “bulk personal datasets.” These will mostly include a “majority of individuals” who are innocent, but have been swept-up in the collection anyway.
Warrants for the creation and retention must always be obtained, but there’s no doubting that your privacy is in serious jeopardy with this element.
"Typically these datasets are very large, and of a size which means they cannot be processed manually," the draft code specifies. And while the algorithmic processing of data sets could be fine in terms of no one person snooping on you, that means they will be searching by keyword.
That one sarcastic joke you made could be taken in a whole different way.
I am the Founder and Editor-in-chief of New Rising Media. You can follow me on Twitter @MrJasonEngland.