UK’s Revised Snooper’s Charter Widens Scope of Police Surveillance

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The British government released a revised final draft of the Investigatory Powers Bill, the widely criticized legislation also known as the “snooper’s charter,” on Tuesday. The new version of the bill is supposed to address a range of concerns; however it may have done more to galvanize opposition to it with expanded allowances for surveillance, including police access to web user’s complete browsing histories during investigations.

Home secretary Theresa May told Parliament that the powers granted by the bill are necessary to maintain safety from “increasingly complex, serious, and unpredictable threat(s),” Fortune reports. The Investigatory Powers Bill proposes similar measures to a bill defeated before reaching a Parliamentary vote under the previous government. It was introduced in November despite a call in the Report of the Investigatory Powers Review by Queen’s Counsel David Anderson in June that the legislation be “drafted from scratch.”

Also in June, privacy advocacy group Big Brother Watch found that UK telecoms comply with 96 percent of law enforcement requests, undermining the claims of a “capability gap” which motivate the broad new surveillance powers proposed. In July, the bill’s Internet surveillance predecessor “DRIPA” was ruled unlawful by the UK High Court, which allowed DRIPA to remain in effect until the end of March, which has likely motivated both the government’s rush to pass new legislation, and the legislation’s contents.

The Investigatory Powers Bill was named one of the Internet policies for web hosts to watch in 2016 by the i2Coalition, which opposes it, along with the World Wide Web Foundation, Amnesty UK, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and numerous other groups. The first draft, which contained the gem “data includes any information that is not data,” was also criticized by the UN, companies such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo, as well as three government committees. A special joint committees issued a report weeks ago recommending “that more effort should be made to reflect not only the policy aims but also the practical realities of how the Internet works on a technical level.”

Despite the opposition to the bill, the new draft arguably does more to expand law enforcement surveillance than to limit or provide oversight for it. A response co-signed by over 100 academics, politicians, advocates, and legal experts was published in Tuesday’s Telegraph, urging an extended legal consultation period to “get surveillance laws right.” A new round of statements against the legislation includes the World Wide Web Foundation’s claim that rushing it through Parliament would be “a slap in the face for Britain’s democracy and her people.”

“The continued inclusion of powers for bulk interception and bulk equipment interference—hacking by any other name—leaves the right to privacy dangerously undermined and the security of our infrastructure at risk,” said Privacy International executive director Gus Hosein. “Despite this, the Home Office stands by its claim that the Bill represents ‘world-leading’ legislation. It is truly world-leading, for all the wrong reasons.”

As in the legal battle between the FBI and Apple, encryption backdoors are included in the “snooper’s charter,” and as in the US, there is concern that “juridictionally agile” service providers will simply pack up and leave the UK if the bill is passed in its current form.

“In the short term, I cannot see how security-conscious cloud and hosting companies can remain in the country if this bill is passed,” said Jacob Ginsberg, senior director of Echoworx, a UK email encryption firm.

Beyond that, the precedent set by the DRIPA ruling, and the inclusion of numerous legal experts in the letter published in the Telegraph, suggest that if the Investigatory Powers Bill is passed, it may face an immediate and uncertain legal challenge.

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