UK passes Orwellian Snooper's Charter

It’s been threatening for a while, but now its official; the Snooper’s Charter is now a real thing after passing through the House of Lords.

Jamie Davies

November 17, 2016

3 Min Read
UK passes Orwellian Snooper's Charter

It’s been threatening for a while, but now its official; the Snooper’s Charter is now a real thing after passing through the House of Lords.

Initially proposed by the now-Prime Minister and then-Home Secretary Theresa May, the Investigatory Powers Bill gives UK intelligence agencies unprecedented access to personal information. Privacy advocates have been fighting the bill, asking politicians to water down the new powers, however the sign-off from the Queen is all that now remains, which is a mere formality.

For the telco industry one of the major changes will be storage of all communications history of users for a period of 12 months. This means internet history, messenger services and even post (if anyone sends letters anymore). While expected, the amendments could cause complications when combined with the potentially complex EU General Data Protection Regulation, which the government has indicated will be replicated within the UK in an effort to stay aligned with Europe.

The data must be made accessible to police and intelligence agencies should there be adequate cause to investigate an individual, though the Snooper’s Charter details so many different potential reasons it doesn’t look like it will be that difficult to find sufficient cause. Reasons could be one or more of the following:

  • Interests of national security

  • Purpose of preventing or detecting crime or of preventing disorder

  • Interests of UK economic well-being, assuming this also relates to national security

  • Interests of public safety where an incident has the potential to injure members of the public

  • Purpose of protecting public health

  • Purpose of assessing or collecting any tax, duty, levy or other imposition, contribution or charge payable to a government department

  • Purpose of preventing death or injury or any damage to a person’s physical or mental health

  • Assist investigations into alleged miscarriages of justice

  • Where a person has died or is unable to identify themselves because of a physical or mental condition to assist in identifying that person

  • Purpose of exercising functions relating to the regulation of financial services and markets or to financial stability

It is by no means a blank cheque for the intelligence agencies, however it does offer a lot of wiggle room.

But what does the legislation actually include? Firstly, it gives the police and intelligence agencies the freedom to hack into computers, networks, mobile devices and servers in a practice known as equipment interference. Warrants must be issued though this could include downloading data from a mobile phone or software that tracks every keyboard letter pressed being installed on a laptop.

Secondly, a practise known as bulk equipment interference has been given the thumbs up. This allows police and intelligence agencies to cast a large net over a specific location to collect data from a large number of devices. Once again, warrants must be applied for, though this instance will lead to data from innocent and unsuspecting individuals being collected. What the measures to ensure the unintentionally collected data isn’t abused by the intelligence agencies is currently unclear.

As well as individual datasets being stored, the intelligence agencies will also have the opportunity to request ‘bulk personal data-sets’ from the communications providers. Once again, data will be collected from innocent individuals however the government has justified this by highlighting the manpower which will be needed to manage individual data-sets.

This bill has been brewing in the background for some time and maybe somewhat surprisingly it does give the UK government more power than most Westernized countries, which may or may not be a good thing considering how much confidence is placed in our politicians.

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