Sweep­ing UK spy bill dubbed ‘snoop­ers’ char­ter’ be­comes law

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

In Bri­tain, Big Brother just got big­ger. Af­ter months of wran­gling, Par­lia­ment has passed a con­tentious new snoop­ing law that gives au­thor­i­ties - from po­lice and spies to food reg­u­la­tors, fire of­fi­cials and tax in­spec­tors - pow­ers to look at the in­ter­net brows­ing records of ev­ery­one in the coun­try. The law re­quires tele­coms com­pa­nies to keep records of all users’ web ac­tiv­ity for a year, cre­at­ing data­bases of per­sonal in­for­ma­tion that the firms worry could be vul­ner­a­ble to leaks and hack­ers. Civil lib­er­ties groups say the law es­tab­lishes mass sur­veil­lance of Bri­tish cit­i­zens, fol­low­ing in­no­cent in­ter­net users from the of­fice to the liv­ing room and the bed­room.

Tim Bern­ers-Lee, the com­puter sci­en­tist cred­ited with in­vent­ing World Wide Web, tweeted news of the law’s pas­sage with the words: “Dark, dark days.” The In­ves­ti­ga­tory Pow­ers Bill - dubbed the “snoop­ers’ char­ter” by crit­ics - was passed by Par­lia­ment this month af­ter more than a year of de­bate and amend­ments. It will be­come law when it re­ceives the for­mal­ity of royal as­sent next week. But big ques­tions re­main about how it will work, and the govern­ment ac­knowl­edges it could be 12 months be­fore in­ter­net firms have to start stor­ing the records.

“It won’t hap­pen in a big bang next week,” Home Of­fice of­fi­cial Chris Mills told a meet­ing of in­ter­net ser­vice providers on Thurs­day. “It will be a phased pro­gram of the in­tro­duc­tion of the mea­sures over a year or so.” The govern­ment says the new law “en­sures pow­ers are fit for the dig­i­tal age,” re­plac­ing a patch­work of rules. In a move taken by few other na­tions, it re­quires telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies to store for a year the web his­to­ries known as in­ter­net con­nec­tion records - a list of web­sites each per­son has vis­ited and the apps and mes­sag­ing ser­vices they used, though not the in­di­vid­ual pages they looked at or the mes­sages they sent.

The govern­ment has called that in­for­ma­tion the mod­ern equiv­a­lent of an item­ized phone bill. But crit­ics say it’s more like a per­sonal diary. Ju­lian Hup­pert, a former Lib­eral Demo­crat law­maker who op­posed the bill, said it “cre­ates a very in­tru­sive database.” “Peo­ple may have been to the De­pres­sion Al­liance web­site, or a mar­riage guid­ance web­site, or an abor­tion provider’s web­site, or all sorts of things which are very per­sonal and pri­vate,” he said.

Of­fi­cials won’t need a war­rant to ac­cess the data, and the list of bod­ies that can see it in­cludes not just the po­lice and in­tel­li­gence ser­vices, but govern­ment de­part­ments, rev­enue and cus­toms of­fi­cials and even the Food Stan­dards Agency. “My worry is partly about their ac­cess,” Hup­pert said. “But it’s much more deeply about the prospects for either hack­ing or peo­ple sell­ing in­for­ma­tion on.” James Bless­ing, chair­man of the In­ter­net Ser­vices Providers As­so­ci­a­tion, said the in­dus­try has “sig­nif­i­cant ques­tions” on how the law will work - in­clud­ing “how to keep the vast new data sets se­cure.” He warned that if the law is not im­ple­mented in a “pro­por­tion­ate, con­sid­ered way, there is a real dan­ger the UK could lose its sta­tus as a world-lead­ing dig­i­tal econ­omy.” Some as­pects of the new law re­main clouded by se­crecy. Not all in­ter­net com­pa­nies will have to com­ply - only those that are asked to by the govern­ment. The govern­ment won’t say who is on that list, and the firms in­volved are for­bid­den from telling their cus­tomers.

Ser­vice providers are also con­cerned by the law’s pro­vi­sion that firms can be asked to re­move en­cryp­tion to let spies ac­cess com­mu­ni­ca­tions. In­ter­net com­pa­nies say that could weaken the se­cu­rity of on­line shop­ping, bank­ing and a host of other ac­tiv­i­ties that rely on en­cryp­tion. The new law also makes of­fi­cial - and le­gal - Bri­tish spies’ abil­ity to hack into de­vices and har­vest vast amounts of bulk on­line data, much of it from out­side the UK In do­ing so, it both ac­knowl­edges and sets lim­its on the se­cre­tive masss­noop­ing schemes ex­posed by former US Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency con­trac­tor Ed­ward Snow­den. — AP

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