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Sarah UKFast | Account Manager

Bill-y No Mates

1 March 2016 by Jenn Granger

At the end of last year the notorious Investigatory Powers Bill was damningly rebranded ‘the Snoopers’ Charter’ and caused a right old surveillance scuffle. It lurks under the umbrella of Theresa May’s Communications Data Bill and has been pretty controversial (and pretty unpopular) so far. Updates to the draft have been announced today and it looks like in the rush to get the Bill out they might still be falling short of the point.

Investigatory Powers Bill

The authorities reckon we need an updated bill to tackle surveillance in a digital age, so they can catch terrorists and other ne’er-do-wells. Unfortunately a lot – a lot – of the data of us regular Joes would also get netted up in this, plus it’s kind of impractical – one security expert likened it to creating a huge haystack of data in which to find a needle. Basically, it’s a whole lot of info, and a whole lot of innocent people potentially getting Big Brothered.

The draft of the Bill has been going back and forth and today the updates were released. On the surface of it the privacy protections in the updated version are looking tougher but it’s still unlikely to appease privacy campaigners or tech firms, which have previously criticised the Bill as potentially unethical and impractical.

The updated draft would mean having to ask for more warrants in some cases before spying, reapplying for warrants more often (a whopping every three days rather than every five), and will have to go to more senior judges before accessing journalists’ sources. They’ll also need to provide more detailed information before they use the powers in the Bill. A new Investigatory Powers Commission would also be able to veto requests.

However, this version would still require service providers like BT or Sky to store users’ internet connection records for a year in case the government wants to access them. This may sound no worse than the access they have to our phone records now, but it’s a much richer vein of data. Also worrying is that the powers to see users’ browsing history is expanding and the authorities won’t necessarily need a warrant at all in some cases. The Bill also gives authorities the legal backing to justify the mass collection of user data that the NSA and GCHQ carry out on the public’s devices. It could well apply to bank or medical records, and it includes everyone.

The encryption fears raised by Apple and other tech companies this week are also addressed, but the draft just insists that tech companies will only be asked to remove encryption that they have applied themselves, and only where it’s ‘practicable’. Which is fairly unhelpful because it’s not possible to create a back door for the ‘good’ guys and not the ‘bad’.

Our CEO Lawrence reckons there could be huge ramifications on British businesses if the bill goes through as it is. He said: “Apart from the fact that it’s un-British and unethical to collect this bulk private data from people, the impact it could have on British digital businesses is significant. We currently trade on the fact that we have more security and privacy rights than our American counterparts, but that competitive advantage could be removed.

“The Snooper’s Charter is already costing the UK communications and technology industry and forcing innovative and successful firms to relocate their operations outside of the UK. Look at Eris Industries who are a great company; they are planning to relocate their operations if this bill is passed in its current form.”

Over on the other side of the fence, a Home Office source said: “We have considered the committees’ reports carefully and the Bill we are bringing forward today reflects the majority of their recommendations. We have strengthened safeguards, enhanced privacy protections and bolstered oversight arrangements.

“Terrorists and criminals are operating online and we need to ensure the police and security services can keep pace with the modern world and continue to protect the British public from the many serious threats we face.”

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