Snoopers’ Charter: invasion of privacy or for your safety?

TL;DR the “snoopers’ charter” is a proposed new law which allows spies to see the websites you visit without a warrant.

 

Snoopers’ what?

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 Current laws are out of date and whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that our spy agencies engaged in mass collection of data.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.

 

As it stands

snoopers charter, george clooney peers over a hill

Government wants to implement a ‘snoopers’ charter’ and track online activity… We hope George Clooney is the one snooping on us!

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.

 

What would the snoopers’ charter allow?

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;

 

 

The bill also allows the “bulk” collection of data for the first time in law;

 

 

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 uncoveredNeedle in a haystack, anyone?

 

 

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.

 

Should I be worried?

If you are a terrorist or criminal then, yeah.

snoopers charter, law abiding citizen, gerard butler, gif of gerard butler winking

Law abiding citizens don’t need to fear the new bill… not you Gerard!

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.

 

Join the snoopers’ charter debate:



 

Snoopers’ Charter Decoded: new laws mean all your internet activity will be logged.

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.

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5 questions about the Queen’s Speech that need answering

No, it’s not the sequel to the Oscar-winning film “The King’s Speech”. Today is the State Opening of the new Parliament and all eyes will be on Queen Elizabeth II. Here are five points which explain the Queen’s Speech:

 

1. So why is the Queen’s speech so important?

Today is the State Opening of Parliament.  This means a new parliamentary year begins, and why the Queen outlines the new laws the government will try to make official over the next five years. The tradition of the Queen making a speech at the beginning of Parliament goes back to the 16th century. If it ain’t broke… As we’ve just had an election, the speech is even more important as it outlines David Cameron’s priorities as Prime Minister of an all-Conservative government.

The Queen's Speech: Queen Elizabeth II looks bored

The Queen’s Speech sets out the Government’s plans for the next five years

 

2. I thought the Queen only made a speech at Christmas?

The Queen usually makes a speech every year at the opening of Parliament. There have been a few exceptions to this convention in the past – twice when the Queen was pregnant, and also in 2011 when the government at the time (the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition) decided they needed two years to put their plans into effect, and by that we mean writing.

3. So I guess there’s a lot of ceremony involved?

You betcha. First, the Queen travels from Buckingham Palace in an ornate horse drawn carriage followed by the Household Cavalry. Major points for style and also for being kind to the environment.

The Queen's Speech: a man dressed as a horse dances

The Queen’s Speech: The Queen travels by horse and carriage

When she arrives a House of Lords official goes to get the MPs but the door is closed in his face. This isn’t just banter; it’s meant to show the separation between the Head of State (queen), and the government.

At around 11.30AM the Queen, now wearing robes and the royal crown will be handed the speech, written on parchment (posh word for paper). Queenie sits on the throne in the House of Lords and the commoners, meaning members of the House of Commons, come to listen to the speech. Real life commoners, meaning members of the public, aren’t allowed to come to the State Opening. Invited guests only: So far, so regal. The Queen’s Speech is written by government officials, but is signed off by the Queen before the opening of Parliament.

The Queen's Speech: A scene from the movie Brave, the lead character slams the door

The Queen’s Speech: the door is slammed in the face of a House of Lords official to show the division between state government and the monarchy

 

4. What’s in the speech then?

At the moment all we know are rumours. Bills expected to be in the Queen’s Speech include a referendum (where we all get to vote) on the UK’s membership of the European Union, new laws to reduce the number of immigrants coming into the country,  and more powers to be given to Scotland and large English cities e.g. Manchester.

The Queen's Speech: Rapper Snoop Dogg turns .. into a dog

Expect the Snooper’s Charter to be in the The Queen’s Speech… hint: it’s nothing to do with the rapper..

The Tories also want to get rid of the Human Rights Act , create a 7 day NHS and to give MPs a chance to take away the Hunting Ban – foxes beware! You can also expect new powers for the security services with something called the Communications and Data Bill. This means officials will have more access to messages sent via social media and calls made over the internet. People are calling it the “Snooper’s Charter” and people can’t agree on whether it’s a good idea….

 

Queen's Speech - twitter screenshots showing responses to the speech

Not everyone is a fan of the “Snoopers Charter” expected to be in the Queen’s Speech

 

5. OK, speech over – what happens next?

The Queen goes back to Buckingham Palace and the MPs get lunch after their hard morning’s work sitting listening to a speech.

In the afternoon the Prime Minister then addresses the House of Commons and the MPs get to do what they do best – debate.

They vote on the speech – though the vote is mainly symbolic. In the past if MPs voted against the bill it could have been considered a vote of “no confidence” which basically meant “we don’t have confidence in the government – get out!” A vote of no confidence can trigger an early election and force the government to resign.

No Confidence Votes are still a thing, but the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 redefined how the vote has to be specifically worded. What this means for now: if the Queen’s Speech is voted down it will just be an embarrassing early defeat for the Conservatives.

The Queen's Speech: Animation of the Queen sticking up fingers at the camera

The Queen’s Speech: The Queen rules, OK

 

AND HOW DO WE ALL FEEL ABOUT THIS…. NOT GOOD APPARENTLY?

 

Queen's Speech - twitter screenshots showing responses to the speech

Will there be protests over the Queen’s Speech, or just lots of jokes on Twitter?

 

What we learned today: the Queen’s Speech = the Government’s Five Year Plan. Due to the Fixed Term Parliament Act losing a vote on the Speech doesn’t mean the Government have to resign.

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