New Bill Edges UK Towards 'Surveillance State'

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New Bill Edges UK Towards 'Surveillance State'

'No other Government has legislated to retain all our internet records.'

Critics warn that the draft Investigatory Powers Bill would represent an unprecedented expansion of the UK government's surveillance powers. (Photo: Paul Downey/flickr/cc)

The UK unveiled on Wednesday a draft bill to expand the government's spy powers that privacy watchdogs are decrying as a further step towards becoming a surveillance state.

"[T]his long-awaited Bill constitutes a breath-taking attack on the internet security of every man, woman and child in our country," stated Shami Chakrabarti, Director of the UK-based rights group Liberty.

Home Secretary Theresa May unveiled the draft Investigatory Powers Bill and called it "unprecedented."

"It will provide unparalleled openness and transparency about our investigatory powers. It will provide the strongest safeguards and world-leading oversight arrangements. And it will give the men and women of our security and intelligence agencies and our law enforcement agencies—who do so much to keep us safe and secure—the powers they need to protect our country," she said.

But critics say the proposed legislation provides neither adequate privacy safeguards nor sufficient judicial authorization for warrants.

As the Guardian reports, the legislation requires Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to keep a record of every website every citizen has used for up to a year. It also "[m]akes explicit in law for the first time security services' powers for the 'bulk collection' of large volumes of personal communications data," and it has a "[n]ew 'double-lock' on ministerial authorization of intercept warrants with panel of seven judicial commissioners given power of veto. But exemptions allowed in 'urgent cases' of up to five days."

Glyn Moody adds at Ars Technica UK:

Another major element of the Investigatory Powers Bill (aka the Snooper's Charter) is a legal footing for GCHQ's powers to "interfere with" any computer system, anywhere in the world. This includes listening to phone calls, tracking locations, copying data, and turning on microphones or cameras on mobile phones for the purpose of surveillance. This basically gives GCHQ permission to break into computer systems outside the UK without needing a warrant.

"By my read, #SnoopersCharter legitimizes mass surveillance. It is the most intrusive and least accountable surveillance regime in the West."
—Tweet from Edward Snowden
Liberty's take is that "[f]ar from attempting to create a more targeted and effective system, the Bill places the broad mass surveillance powers revealed by Edward Snowden on a statutory footing, including mass interception, mass acquisition of communications data, mass hacking and retention of databases on huge swathes of the population."

Alice Wyss, UK Researcher at Amnesty International, said that while it was good that "proper parliamentary and public scrutiny [were] finally" being given to the surveillance system, "[w]ider snooping powers will take the UK closer to becoming a surveillance state."

"Surveillance should be targeted, not indiscriminate, and the entire system should be placed under the scrutiny and control of independent judges, not politicians," Wyss added. "That’s the only way to safeguard our basic liberties and restore public confidence."

London-based Privacy International similarly noted: "Powers for bulk interception that the Government has long undertaken in secret have finally been explicitly avowed, but the case for them remains uncritically examined and evidentially weak."

"It is disingenuous for the Government to say that the Bill does not contain new powers," a statement from the group explained. "Existing law does not permit the Government to hack into our computers and retain records of all our internet communications. No other Government in the world has legislated for bulk hacking. No other Government has legislated to retain all our internet records."

"This Bill will be one of the most important pieces of legislation for a decade to get right for our civil liberties."

May said that the government hoped to pass the law by the end of 2016.

Twitter users, including NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, are commenting on the bill with the hashtags #IPBill and #SnoopersCharter:

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