UK law­mak­ers ap­prove ‘most sweep­ing’ sur­veil­lance pow­ers

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

LON­DON: The Bri­tish par­lia­ment this week gave the green light to new bulk sur­veil­lance pow­ers for po­lice and in­tel­li­gence ser­vices that crit­ics have de­nounced as the most far­reach­ing of any west­ern democ­racy.

The In­ves­ti­ga­tory Pow­ers Bill would, among other mea­sures, re­quire web­sites to keep cus­tomers’ brows­ing his­tory for up to a year and al­low law en­force­ment agen­cies to ac­cess them to help with in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Edward Snow­den, the for­mer US Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency con­trac­tor turned whistle­blower, said the pow­ers “went fur­ther than many au­toc­ra­cies”. “The UK has just le­gal­ized the most ex­treme sur­veil­lance in the his­tory of west­ern democ­racy,” he tweeted.

The bill, the first ma­jor up­date of Bri­tish sur­veil­lance laws for 15 years, was passed by the House of Lords and now only needs rub­ber-stamp­ing by Queen El­iz­a­beth II. Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May in­tro­duced the bill in March when she was still in­te­rior min­is­ter, de­scrib­ing it as “world-lead­ing” leg­is­la­tion in­tended to re­flect the change in on­line com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

It gives le­gal foot­ing to ex­ist­ing but murky pow­ers such as the hack­ing of com­put­ers and mo­bile phones, while in­tro­duc­ing new safe­guards such as the need for a judge to au­tho­rize in­ter­cep­tion war­rants.

But crit­ics have dubbed it the “snooper’s char­ter” and say that, in au­tho­riz­ing the blan­ket re­ten­tion and ac­cess by au­thor­i­ties of records of emails, calls, texts and web ac­tiv­ity, it breaches fun­da­men­tal rights of pri­vacy.

Rights or­ga­ni­za­tion Lib­erty has chal­lenged the leg­is­la­tion at the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice, ar­gu­ing it is in­com­pat­i­ble with hu­man rights law, and a judg­ment is ex­pected next year. “The pas­sage of the Snoop­ers’ Char­ter through par­lia­ment is a sad day for Bri­tish lib­erty,” said Bella Sankey, the group’s pol­icy di­rec­tor. “Un­der the guise of counter-ter­ror­ism, the state has achieved to­tal­i­tar­ian-style sur­veil­lance pow­ers-the most in­tru­sive sys­tem of any democ­racy in hu­man his­tory. “It has the abil­ity to in­dis­crim­i­nately hack, in­ter­cept, record, and mon­i­tor the com­mu­ni­ca­tions and in­ter­net use of the en­tire pop­u­la­tion.”

Jim Kil­lock, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of digital campaigners Open Rights Group, warned the im­pact of the leg­is­la­tion would reach beyond Bri­tain. “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,” he said.

The bill also re­in­forces ex­ist­ing en­cryp­tion pow­ers, al­low­ing of­fi­cials to ask tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies to pro­vide con­tent where it is deemed “prac­ti­ca­ble”, al­though firms fear it may open the door to fur­ther de­mands on the sec­tor. —AFP

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