A Deeper Look into the Snoopers Charter

Many privacy and freedom advocates have already denounced the UK’s Investigatory Powers Bill as an attack against basic rights. But on top of this, consumers are likely going to have to start paying more for their Internet because the British parliament’s data retention plans will require massive upgrades at the ISP level. Cybercrime in the UK has rocketed in the past year, but this is not a sound justification for denying people their right to privacy and freedom on the Internet.

Warrantless Mass Internet Tracking

Early last month, whistleblower Edward Snowden called out the Snoopers Charter on Twitter saying that it makes mass surveillance legal and is “the most intrusive and least accountable” of all Western surveillance plans. This was just after Theresa May, the Home Secretary of the ruling UK Conservative Party, explained the powers that the draft bill grants to security services, police and a list of at least 50 government offices. These include the Charity Commission, the Department of Health, county and district councils, the Department for Transport, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Environment Agency, the Financial Services Authority, fire and rescue authorities, the Food Standards Agency, the
Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the Health and Safety Executive, the Office of Fair Trading, The Pensions Regulator, the Postal Services Commission, the NHS ambulance service Trust, the Royal Navy Regulating Branch, the Royal Military Police, the Royal Air Force Police, and the Secret Intelligence Service.

Home Secretary May illustrated that the ability to request the Internet connection records of any UK web user is not the same as access to a person’s complete browsing history, and that it only applies to illegal websites and communications websites, and only when it is relevant to an investigation. Still, these agencies will have to ability to track any UK Internet user without having to get a warrant. May talks about double-lock oversight, but upon examining the system it really looks like requests for communication intercepts are simply going to be rubber-stamped by retired judges who have been appointed by the government for that specific purpose.

Under the bill, certain agencies will also be able to intercept communications on the Internet that come from anywhere in the world. They will be spying on any and all of the fiber-optic cables that run through the UK, present and future. They have of course done this secretly in the past, as we learned from the Snowden revelations, but making it legal means that they no longer have to be careful about how they do it. The degree of surveillance can only increase and broaden and deepen. How can any government bestow upon themselves the right to snoop on foreigners? And why are these peoples’ governments not protesting?

Paying To Be Spied On

Under these new powers laid out in the bill, Internet Service providers will have to maintain these Internet connection records of every UK user for at least a year. Home Secretary May stressed that the records will only show the websites that people visited and not their page views, as if this is not already an invasion of privacy. She also said that specific conversations will not be recorded, but just knowing all the domains that a person goes to can already tell a lot about a person. One need not know which pages of a particular news site or dating platform a person opened to know what they are into.

In addition, since it seems that ISPs are being made responsible for all this data, what level of security can the public really expect for their collected data? ISPs of course will be upgrading their systems, but this is to be able to hold all that data and not necessarily to secure it. ISPs have been notoriously negligent with user data in the past, and no one should reasonably expect that they will care more this time.

In an ironic twist, the government also admitted that it has been conducting similar mass spying for at least 14 years. It is as if legalizing the practice is the reasonable next step. But legitimizing dragnet surveillance does not make it valid. The legal framework that a bill would provide can offer some benefit in the form of oversight, but it is still mass surveillance and it still violates basic rights. The UK government, like the US government before it, is using the excuse of the need to beef up security. But if fear-mongering is the only way that they can get their way then they are no better than the terrorists that they claim to be fighting against. The government also implies that the loss of privacy is a necessary evil. This is what is simply wrong. Another thing wrong is May claiming that surveillance has thwarted terrorist attacks in the past without providing any proof. It probably either never happened or they can’t say because of the number of innocent people that they violated along the way.

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