Explained: The Investigatory Powers Bill


The Investigatory Powers Bill (IP Bill) will completely change up the laws that govern how the police, the government and spies gather communication between citizens and individuals on the internet – that’s me and you chatting on Facebook, that’s you being on this website right now, and that’s also you ordering a cheeky Nandos on the weekend. The new laws are unprecedented around the world and will be a legal first when it comes to the extent of government surveillance powers.

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 Current laws are out of date and whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that our spy agencies engaged in mass collection of data.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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Are Whistleblowers heroes or traitors… or just people?

Whistleblower Edward Snowden joins twitter… and gets accused of being a traitor. What is a whistleblower?


Whistleblower means what exactly?

Whistleblower - A referee blows the whistle and holds up a yellow card

Whistleblower: like in sport, they call time on foul play

A Whistleblower reports wrongdoing or illegal activity in their workplace. The official name for this is ‘making a disclosure in the public interest’.

The term “blowing the whistle” relates to sport where referees indicate foul play with a whistle.

Many companies have a whistleblowing policy. If you feel that reporting to your bosses could lead you to getting fired or unfairly treated at work you can go to a “prescribed body”; an independent person.
If you “blow the whistle” you can be protected from being fired, so long as you can give reasonable argument that the information you’ve provided shows a wrongdoing and is in the public interest. So snitching on a colleague just to settle a score probably won’t cut it.

But if you’ve signed a non-disclosure contract like the Official Secrets Act (which all spies have to do) and leak material; then you’ll be arrested. And no, you don’t need an actual whistle.


OK, gimme some examples

Whistleblower - Spy bird animation. A bird in a nest pulls out a pair of binoculars.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed America’s spy agencies had gone too far

The most famous whistleblower in recent times is Edward Snowden. He used to work for America’s spy agency, the CIA. In 2013 he leaked documents showing that America’s National Security Agency had been illegally spying on American citizens.

Snowden went on the run and is currently in Moscow, where he was granted temporary asylum. Closer to home, Snowden also leaked documents that showed that the UK’s spy centre, GCHQ, had tapped wire cables to monitor masses of communication data. GCHQ also received and shared data with the National Security Agency, which was ruled illegal by a tribunal earlier this year. This sparked a debate about how much power spies should have.


whistleblower website wikileaks was set up to allow exposers to leak information

That information didn’t need to be leaked.

Transgender US soldier Chelsea Manning (previously known as Bradley), hit the headlines in 2010 when she released a video on the WikiLeaks website. The video showed an American helicopter shooting down unarmed civilians in Iraq.
WikiLeaks was set up by journalist and hacker Julian Assange. Its aim: create a space where whistleblowers could upload material and never have to meet anyone; protecting their anonymity. Chelsea Manning is currently serving 35 years jail time for the leaking of the video. Guess that anonymity thing didn’t quite work out.


The original whistleblower: FBI Associate Director Mark Felt provided information to journalists about the Watergate Scandal under the codename “Deep Throat”. Note to self; when whistleblowing always name yourself after a famous porn movie.
It was revealed that supporters of US President Nixon had attempted to bug the offices of his rivals. Secret recordings later revealed the President had known about the bugging attempt and had tried to stop a FBI investigation.  President Nixon later resigned due to the scandal.


Are whistleblowers good people or just tell-tales?

If a crime has been committed then it does seem right that the public should know about it. Especially if they are the victims of illegal surveillance.

The argument against many whistleblowers is that they put lives of soldiers, intelligence officers and civilians in danger. In the case of Snowden he broke his non-disclosure agreement by leaking the material. With all three, it could be argued that by leaking the information online or to the newspapers, that they did not report to the correct prescribed body. Naughty, Naughty.

When Edward Snowden joined Twitter he gained over 16,ooo followers in one day. Not bad going.


Not everyone was happy. Presidential candidate George Pataki posted;


Later Snowden tweeted;


So, perhaps whistleblowers aren’t heroes or traitors – just people?


Why are we blowing the whistle on this topic?

A new report says the government should be allowed to monitor our communications

A new report says the government should be allowed to monitor our communications

Edward Snowden blew the whistle on what he saw as illegal spying. The UK government now plans to create a new spying law nicknamed the “Snooper’s Charter”. It allows the government increased access to online communications like email and instant messaging. #beingwatched

The Guardian explained how a new report into surveillance tactics by David Anderson QC, suggests government ministers should not have the power to authorise spying warrants. It suggests the power should be given to an independent commissioner. The report was written because of the Snowden leaks. However it does recommend that the government should be allowed to keep its surveillance powers.

A recent report by the Sunday Times states that MI6 spies have been moved out of the field because their cover had been blown after Russia and China had seen documents leaked by Snowden. Whether this is true or not, it has re-opened the debate about the role of the whistleblower.


What we learned; whistleblowers should be able to expose illegal activity, but there is still a massive debate about how this should be done.

Whistleblowers; heroes or traitors? What would you do if you had access to information like Edward Snowden?


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