Government confirms sweeping new powers for the security services in fresh blow to privacy campaigners
The Queen’s speech in Parliament has confirmed the security services will get even more surveillance powers to tackle the online communications of terrorists, paedophiles and other serious criminals.
As expected, the new Investigatory Powers Bill will include not only the previously blocked snooper’s charter, which allows the tracking of people’s web and social media use, but it also includes measures that will strengthen the ability of the security service for the bulk interception (via search warrants) of the content of communications
The fact that the Investigatory Powers Bill includes far more wide-ranging powers than expected will dismay many privacy campaigners who for years have battled the snooper’s charter. It has led some to label the new bill a “turbo-charged snoopers’ charter”.
The Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg led the fight against these additional surveillance powers whilst they were part of the previous Coalition government. But the Conservative majority in the Houses of Parliament now means that Prime Minister David Cameron has been freed from the restraining actions of the Liberal Democrats.
The Queen said the new bill would “modernise the law on communications data”, while the government said the new legislation would “provide police and intelligence agencies with the tools” to keep people safe.
Full details of the bill are expected to be revealed in the coming days. But essentially the government claimed the new bill would give the police and security service new surveillance powers (to keep you and your family safe”. It will “address ongoing capability gaps that are severely degrading the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies ability to combat terrorism and other serious crime.”
It will also maintain the current abilities of authorities to “target” online communications of “terrorists, paedophiles and other serious criminals”. It will also modernise outdated laws to ensure it is “fit for purpose”, and finally ensure there is “appropriate oversight” and safeguards for how the powers are used.
The new bill is likely to be very controversial indeed. Not will it will upset privacy campaigners, but it is highly likely that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as well as mobile operators, will have to create new systems to store data about their customer’s online and communication behaviours.
The Open Rights Group has long campaigned against these surveillance powers, an issue that became headline news when the extent of the NSA data gathering programs was first revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in June 2013.
“This is the fifth time a Government has tried to bring in the Snoopers’ Charter,” it said. “The Home Office wants to give the police and intelligence services even more powers to look at what we do and who we talk to.”
“Do we really want to live in a country where the police tries to access all of our texts and WhatsApp messages to our loved ones, the emails from our friends, the Facebook messages we’ve sent and the Snapchat photos our friends send us?” it said.
And it warned that the government may use this new bill to tackle encryption technology, an issue that David Cameron has been seeking to address for some time now.
“We think the police and intelligence services should target people suspected of crimes instead of collecting everyone’s data, all of the time,” said the group.
It should be noted that the British move mirrors that of the United States and France, where authorities have sought to increase state surveillance and facilitate the collection of communications metadata in recent months.
That said, the US Court of Appeals recently ruled the NSA’s mass collection of phone records was illegal.
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