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The Government Wants to Browse your Data

4 November 2015 by Jenn Granger

More details have been released about the new surveillance bill and the outcome has divided opinion massively. Ultimately though, it will be regular Brits, their data and their businesses that are affected, so it’s important that you know the score.

Investigatory Powers

Talk of data privacy, along with the terms ‘Safe Harbour’ and ‘Snoopers’ Charter’, has been gaining some real column inches recently as the debate rages on. What it essentially boils down to are concerns over the safety and privacy of British Citizens’ data, versus how much power the government and law enforcement need (or want, at least) in order to do their jobs.

The latest update is a requirement to be included within the draft Investigatory Powers Bill (previously referred to as the Snoopers’ Charter) – that’s going to be released today – which says internet firms will have to hold onto the data of its users for 12 months in case law enforcement wants to have a gander.

It won’t record every single page you go on, but it’s also much more invasive than surveillance in the US, Aus, Canada and rest of Europe. So, what are the arguments for and against?

On the pro side: The government and law enforcement, mostly.

Their ultimate aim is to ensure there’s no ‘safe space’ for terrorists or other criminals.

To do this they would have to create backdoors in encryption so that they – and no criminals – would have the access keys to read companies’ data, if they needed to.

Ultimately they’re saying it’s no big deal, just a modernisation of techniques that have been working for ages – except instead of looking at phone records they’re keeping up with tech.

And in the against camp: Privacy rights campaigners, many internet companies, and er, quite a few others.

The argument that it’s against basic privacy rights is just the tip of the iceberg for this camp (though a very important part of the argument).

From a technical POV they’re saying it’s unfeasible because to have the kinds of ‘back doors’ that the government is asking for would let the bad guys in as well as the good, as weakened encryption for the government means weakened encryption for all.

They also reckon that storing that amount of data on everything that citizens are looking at would make it a target for thieves anyway.

They’re ultimately saying that it could end up backfiring; driving crims and terrorists further underground, as they adopt other freely available methods of encryption, whilst suckerpunching the basic rights of regular internet users.

David Anderson QC did a report into this for the government earlier this year. He concluded in his findings that the case had NOT been made for the mass collection and surveillance of communications data and that judges should have the final say over what is looked at – which would mean judicial warrants; currently some cases won’t require a warrant.

Some say the bill is too obscure and fragmented, but the Home Office say there will be safeguards in place and potential prison sentences for anyone accessing the data unlawfully.

The bill is going to be examined in more detail by both Houses of Parliament before being voted on next year, but Cameron seems to be right when he says it’s one of the most important things to have been voted on this year.

This is one of many prongs to the fork spearing users’ data right now. The Safe Harbour agreement is also being investigated, which has had huge repercussions for data protection law compliance.

If you’re a user it’s worth keeping an eye on the debate as it unfolds and make sure that you know what you need to do to stay compliant with the new laws if you’re a business!