The UK government have announced a new bill which expands surveillance powers, this time named the ‘Investigatory Powers Bill’ (IP Bill). The IP Bill requires internet providers to record the browsing history of every single person in the UK for up to a whole year. This information will be accessible by the police and security services, who will also have access to see the apps that people have used on their smartphones and tablet devices, and when they used them. The bill will also give police and security services new powers to hack into devices and networks.
The government claims that local authorities will not have access to the data, and only the websites visited will be recorded, not individual pages within the site. Further details about browser history can be requested by police and security services, but this requires Home Secretary’s approval.
In defence of her bill, Theresa May argued that current laws on online surveillance were out-dated, and needed to be
modernised. She stated: “I am clear we need to update our legislation to ensure it is modern, fit for purpose and can respond to emerging threats as technology advances.” In addition, she argued that some websites have become “safe havens” for terrorists and serious criminals.
The Labour party pledged support for the bill, with shadow home secretary Andy Burnham claiming that the “safety of constituents” were more important than “party politics”. However, the Lib Dems, who tend to be the only party that defend civil liberties, are more sceptical. When in coalition government, they blocked a similar bill dubbed the ‘snooper’s charter’, and Nick Clegg has questioned whether there are flaws “under the bonnet” of the new legislation.
The government also plans to prohibit end-to-end encryption, which is the technology used by popular chats such as WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessage. But founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, has lambasted the plan, arguing that attempts to ban end-to-end encryption is “like trying to ban math, it’s just not going to happen.” He continued, claiming that “governments don’t understand technology very well” and encouraged Apple to stop selling iPhones in the UK if the law goes ahead.
Unsurprisingly, notorious whistleblower Edward Snowden, has come out in opposition to the bill. According to Snowden, the IP Bill legitimises mass surveillance, and is “the most intrusive and least accountable surveillance regime in the West.” He pointed out that even just the logging of an IP address can be enough to deduce private information about an individual. It is important to note that the proposed level of online monitoring in the UK is illegal in the US, Canada and many European countries.