Categorized | Civil Liberties

Investigatory Powers Act

Investigatory Powers Act

Britain leads the world in the use of CCTV. As a result, surveillance has become an inescapable part of life. Britain has a larger DNA base and more police powers and email snooping than any comparable liberal democracy.

This was the very solid base for coalition home secretary Theresa May’s snooper’s charter bill four years ago which would have allowed GCHQ to conduct real-time surveillance of a person’s communications and their web usage. Downing Street initially brushed aside libertarian objections but then plans were put on hold after being condemned by MPs of all parties. Nick Clegg, then Deputy Prime Minister, announced that the contentious measures would only be published in draft form and would be subject to widespread consultation, concessions that could delay the proposals for at least a year.Now the “snooper’s charter” bill extending the reach of state surveillance in Britain has been given royal assent and became law on Tuesday. Theresa May’s successor as home secretary, Amber Rudd, hailed the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 as “world-leading legislation” that provided “unprecedented transparency and substantial privacy protection”.

The new surveillance law requires web and phone companies to store everyone’s web browsing histories for 12 months and gives the police, security services and official agencies unprecedented access to the data. BBC Politics reports that blogger Chris Yiu has compiled a list of the 48 organisations and departments that will be able to access the browsing records of individuals without a warrant. They include various police, military, government and NHS departments as well as the Food Standards Agency, the Gambling Commission, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Health and Safety Executive.

The Act also provides the security services and police with new powers to hack into computers and phones and to collect communications data in bulk. The law requires judges to sign off police requests to view journalists’ call and web records, but the measure has been described as “a death sentence for investigative journalism” in the UK.

The Home Office says some of the provisions in the Act will require extensive testing and will not be in place for some time. However, powers to require web and phone companies to collect customers’ communications data will be in force before 31 December, the date when the current Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 expires.

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, wrote in a blog post for the Huffington Post about the home secretary’s “world-leading” claim, saying: “She is right, it is one of the most extreme surveillance laws ever passed in a democracy. The Investigative Powers Act will have an impact that goes beyond the UK’s shores. It is likely that other countries, including authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records, will use this law to justify their own intrusive surveillance powers.”

Bella Sankey, policy director of the civil liberties group Liberty, is reported as saying “It’s a sad day for our democracy as this Bill – with its eye-wateringly intrusive powers and flimsy safeguards – becomes law.”

A petition asking the UK government to repeal the new Act now has more than 130,000 signatures. The petition describes the act as “an absolute disgrace to both privacy and freedom.”

Time and chance change views. David Davis, former shadow home secretary, now Brexit supremo, claimed in the earlier debates that the government’s move contrasted with the approach in the US. Davis told MPs: “Our primary ally, the United States with the NSA which entirely mirrors GCHQ, is as we speak moving away from bulk collection of data and treating it as wholly unconstitutional.”

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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