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Snooper’s Chart Threatens UK’s Privacy

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Britain’s exit from the European Union heralds massive changes which will affect the citizens the most. Theresa May, former Home Secretary and Britain’s new prime minister, isn’t gaining much of the public’s affection because of this. Along with her pursuance for Britain to leave the European Union, May has a lot planned ahead: she wants to cut immigration, push nuclear weaponry, and conduct mass surveillance on all citizens, with the third one raking in apprehension from the public.

The Investigatory Powers Bill, also known as the IP Bill or the ‘Snooper’s Chart’, is dubbed as the beginning of a ‘privacy meltdown’ in the United Kingdom. May has spent the last year aggressively pushing the bill, raised a lot of concerns from people who feel like the bill is too intrusive of their digital data.

Although the purpose of this bill is to combat crime, terrorism, and other threats to the national security and economy, the bill also removes the citizens of their right to privacy. Large technology companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple are also hesitant on the bill’s passing, as they want to protect their user’s privacy and avoid hacking their users to obtain private data.

Snooper’s Chart

An Overview of the IP Bill

Aside from the interception, collection, and monitoring of online data, a considerable number of the public still lacks of knowledge about what the IP bill is all about and how it could affect them. Here is a brief overview to give a better understanding of the bill’s provisions.

  • Update and restate the existing powers of UK’s intelligence agencies and law enforcement offices for bulk interception of communications and bulk collection of data.
  • Create an Investigatory Powers Commission (IPC) to oversee the use of all the aforementioned powers.
  • Establish a judge from the IPC to review warrants for accessing the content of communications and equipment interference, authorized by a Secretary of State.
  • Compel communication service providers to store internet browsing records (websites visited by the user) for 12 months.
  • Allow the police and intelligence officers to access the browsing records even without a warrant during a targeted filtered investigation.
  • Allow the police and intelligence agencies to hack into computers and devices to access data, whether by bulk or individually, for those concerning national security matters related to foreign investigations.
  • Legally oblige communication service providers to assist with the interception of data, communications, and equipment interference. Foreign companies will not be required to assist in bulk collection of data.
  • Maintain the existing requirement on communication service providers to remove applied encryptions. Foreign companies will not be required to remove encryptions.
  • Firmly establish the Wilson Doctrine (restriction of the police and intelligence agencies from tapping the phones of the Members of the House of Commons and House of Lords) including extended protection for journalists, lawyers, and doctors.
  • Provide the local government with investigatory powers but not internet browsing records.
  • Create a new criminal offense for illegally accessing internet data.
  • Create a new criminal offense for communication service providers to reveal that data has been requested.

May has emphasized that the bill will greatly help in anti-terrorism and reducing and monitoring crimes, which is a good thing to consider. However, this could also mean a decline in UK’s digital economy because users would become reluctant to purchase or utilize some software for fear of privacy invasion.

World Wide Web Foundation’s CEO, Anna Jellema, said, “Does the UK really want the dubious honor of introducing powers deemed too intrusive by all other major democracies, joining the likes of China and Russia in collecting everyone’s browsing habits? This would trample on long-cherished British freedoms and would hurt British businesses, not to mention that we have little evidence that it would make us safer. It’s time for the Home Office to drop this misguided idea entirely.”

Campaigners have also asserted their disagreement against the bill’s passing, saying that it will allow a more intrusive surveillance and strips off the citizens’ fundamental right to privacy. Privacy International’s campaigns director, Harmit Kambo, said, “Theresa May has been a draconian Home Secretary, introducing the wrong policies at the wrong times for the wrong reasons. Instead of responding to public alarm about the Edward Snowden disclosures by rolling back state surveillance powers, she has instead ratcheted it up with the Investigatory Powers Bill, the most intrusive surveillance legislation of any democratic country.”

With these events, the British public has grown more and more concerned of what would be left of their privacy once the bill has been passed. However, there is still the option of utilizing Virtual Private Networks (VPN) for those who truly want to keep their personal data to themselves.

A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel so your data will be unreadable in case it is intercepted, and it also changes your IP address to an address from a different location. Using a VPN server might help users protect their online activities, but only a few people are aware of its existence.

For now, the attack on privacy and mass surveillance is still a debated and controversial issue that many British citizens are hoping to assuage.

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