TL;DR the “snoopers’ charter” is a proposed new law which allows spies to see the websites you visit without a warrant.
It’s officially called the Investigatory Powers Bill. It increases the amount of online activity the government can track and monitor.
Announced in the Queen’s Speech, the snoopers’ charter is designed to help the authorities tackle terrorism. According to them, at least.
Why the sudden need to redefine what powers are legal? Current laws are out of date and whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that our spy agencies engaged in mass collection of data. Questionable behaviour and possibly illegal.
Right now the rules on what spies are allowed to do are very messy. Most were written before the rise of the internet and social messaging apps like WhatsApp.
Early in 2015 an independent report said “time to start over” with a comprehensive law outlining what powers the spooks should have.
The government’s view is that technological advances (think: social media, instant messaging) are allowing terrorists and criminals to communicate undetected.
In 2011, the London Riots were partly coordinated by people using private chat on Blackberry Messenger.
Currently spies can listen in to your phone calls and intercept your emails if they get a warrant signed by the Home Secretary. These are only approved if the government thinks you are a threat to national security. Don’t take it personally.
Phone providers also keep records of who you call and when. Spies and police can request to access these records. The government now want internet providers do the same thing for all websites we visit.
If passed into law internet providers will have to record and store information every website we visit. Here’s the bit everyone’s talking about: police and security services will not need a warrant to view these internet connection records.
However these powers will only be used to determine if we’re doing something illegal. Not just to see which news sites we prefer – Scenes of Reason, obviously 😉
Only the homepage of the website will be stored. For example, spies would be able to see that you visited www.scenesofreason.com but not the specific articles you looked at or who you spoke to. Here’s Home Secretary Theresa May explaining:
Though as the tweet below shows, you can still learn a lot from the home pages people visit;
Some examples of the difference between Internet Connection Records (no warrant) and browsing history (warrant) pic.twitter.com/rDcjNqcTXa
— Mikey Smith (@mikeysmith) November 4, 2015
The bill also allows the “bulk” collection of data for the first time in law;
— Carly Nyst (@carlynyst) November 4, 2015
This is the collection of LOTS of data in the hope that it contains information relevant to police/spy investigations. AKA the activity that Edward Snowden uncovered. Needle in a haystack, anyone?
— PrivacyInternational (@privacyint) November 4, 2015
The snoopers’ charter also clarifies the powers of the state to use “equipment interference powers”. Basically hacking into your computer.
Communication companies will have a legal duty to assist spies to hack into the devices of criminal suspects. You heard that right; your network provider would have to help James Bond gain access your phone.
Previous versions of the snoopers’ charter threatened to ban apps likes WhatsApp. The reason being spies and the cops can’t access messages sent via these apps due to the encryption that they use. The new bill doesn’t go that far.
Instead it suggests that the government would be able to request information, even if encrypted. How the hell this would work or if it’s possible we don’t know.
If you love your reading the full 229 pages of the draft snoopers’ charter, ahem, sorry – the draft Investigatory Powers Bill is available to view online. Happy reading.
If you are a terrorist or criminal then, yeah.
If you are a law-abiding citizen (please, no jokes about the Gerard Butler film) the government say you don’t need to worry.
However civil rights groups are already saying that it’s making it too easy for the government to spy on innocent people. Expect lots of debate in the coming months over the criteria for defining someone as a suspect.
As companies will have to store communication data for up to a year, others are worried about the risk of this data being stolen. When 15-year-olds are hacking phone companies perhaps this is a valid concern.
Others say that it could lead to a massive database where everyone’s communications are logged. Obviously the government says this won’t happen. Good one, guys, feel a lot better about that now.
Considering that previous versions of the snoopers’ charter included ideas like spies being able to access communications in real-time you might think this new version is a lot tamer.
Labour’s Andy Burnham says the new bill broadly gets the balance right.
The bill does includes a “double lock” to ensure that these new powers won’t be used for the forces of evil. Government ministers will give the green light to more intrusive surveillance. This decision also need to be okayed by a judge.
This is apart from emergencies where a minister could authorise spying immediately, without a judge’s say-so. The judge would then have five days to review the case.
There will also be safeguards for “sensitive professions” for those handling confidential information. Like doctors with medical records and journalists protecting sources. We sure feel sensitive.
However, not all are convinced. Shami Chakrabarti from campaign group Liberty calls the snoopers’ charter a “breath-taking attack on the internet security of every man, woman and child in our country.” Guess you can’t please them all.
If you don’t want to be traced you could always go into the Deep Web.
Should the UK government have the power to collect masses of communication data? If it’s for the greater good does that make it OK? Post or tweet us your answers and we promise not to pass them to the government.