The British government last week passed a law that, in the words of Edward Snowden, allows for “the most extreme surveillance in the history of Western democracy.” Known as the Investigatory Powers Act, or the Snooper’s Charter, the bill lets government agencies access huge amounts of personal data relating to all members of the public – but who exactly is allowed to spy on you under this new law, and what can they see?
Strangely enough, the investigatory powers tribunal – which is the only court that monitors MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – ruled last month that these agencies had been carrying out illegal surveillance for the past 17 years. To make sure this doesn’t carry on, the authorities decided simply to legalize most of these surreptitious activities.
For example, the Snooper’s Charter allows government bodies to access bulk personal datasets (BPDs), which include details like financial transactions, medical records, travel arrangements and communications. The bill also requires internet service providers to keep a log of every user’s browsing history dating back 12 months, and to make these available to government agencies.
The extensive list of organizations that can access this information contains several law enforcement agencies such as the various British police forces, as well as the Secret Intelligence Service, GCHQ and the Ministry of Defence.
Yet the list doesn’t stop there, and goes on to name the likes of the Food Standards Agency, the Gambling Commission, the Department for Work and Pensions, and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which deals with tax.
The bill also gives law enforcement agencies unprecedented powers to hack into people’s devices, regardless of whether or not they are suspected of being involved in criminal or terrorist activities.
Alarmingly, communications operators are also required to remove all encryption in order to make it easier for government bodies to access information. Unless some effective new safeguards are put in place, this could open the door for hackers to get hold of Brits’ personal information with greater ease than ever before.
Unsurprisingly, activists and privacy advocates have been vociferous in their opposition to the act, with Open Rights Group director Jim Killock labelling it the "most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy.”