Privacy advocates in England are warning that the British parliament has just passed one of the most intrusive laws ever, authorizing virtually unlimited surveillance of the public.
As reported by Organic & Healthy, the new law grants the government permission to collect data on all citizens in the UK, not simply persons who are suspected of engaging in illegal activities. In addition, the law permits the collection of data from web traffic and telephone data of all citizens, having been dubbed “the Snooper’s Charter.”
In reality, the new UK law sounds like it grants the British government similar broad surveillance powers Congress gave the U.S. via the Patriot Act following the 9/11 attacks.
The website noted that there had been a number of attempts to pass the legislation over the years, but because of the fractious nature of the UK parliament – unlike the two-party system in the U.S., many parties exist and coalitions must be built in order to govern – there were never enough supporters to get it through.
But one of the law’s most ardent supporters was MP Theresa May of the Conservative Party, who was chosen as the UK prime minister earlier this year. That gave her enough support to push the law through.
The legislation managed to pass both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and reports say it will be implemented by year’s end.
The legislation is said to be a repercussion following the fallout of what was known in the UK as the RIPA law, exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The old law gave Britain’s spy agency, the GCHQ, authority to broadly spy on British subjects, much as the Patriot Act gave outsized authority to the U.S. National Security Agency.
However, while the British public was angry following the exposure of the old law, the new legislation is said to be even more intrusive. Data obtained by the government will be made available to various UK governing bodies and authorities, from police to the military.
The new legislation allows/requires:
— Internet Service Providers to log every user’s web browsing history and keep it on file and available to authorities for one year;
— Police and other government law enforcement agencies access to the collected data through a computerized interface program, which will give them the power to search for suspects or any citizen, generally;
— Security services to have unlimited access so that they can analyze public and private databases at will;
— Government agencies the power to continue to collect communications data in bulk, just as they were allowed to do under the old law;
— Police and other agencies, under certain circumstances, to have the authority to hack into users’ computers, mobile and personal devices;
— Communications companies to remove their side of encryption to assist government agencies in obtaining access to private users’ data and/or devices.
The Snooper Charter is a nickname for the law that is well-earned, according to The Conversation. Of the UK, the site noted:
It leaves us in the unenviable position of leading the world in the legalisation of surveillance. And it will likely be used by more authoritarian regimes around the globe as evidence that mass surveillance, online hacking and encryption backdoors are perfectly fine.
The report said that there remain some legal approaches to preventing the legislation from actually taking effect, most likely through the European Court of Justice – as long as the UK is still formally a part of the EU – as well as the European Court of Human Rights, which is not a part of the EU.
However, the site noted, “more likely to be our saving graces” are major problems in the implementation of legislation that is being described as “poorly conceived,” as well as the continually-developing technology that can potentially serve as a way to circumvent the law and still protect privacy.