Explained: The Investigatory Powers Bill

15th March 2016 By ,   0 Comments


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.

The 411: What is the Investigatory Powers Bill?

Scaremongering isn’t cool but it’s important that we know what’s happening with the Investigatory Powers Bill, why? The proposed laws will impact all of us, the messages you send on Facebook, all those emails to work telling them you’re sick – all the information that we as citizens might want to keep private, the government could have access to. This is real Edward Snowden, Citizen Four, big brother might be watching, spy stuff.

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It’s easy to get lost in the jargon on this topic, words like bulk personal datasets, mass surveillance and Internet Connection Records float around and it’s assumed we should know what these mean. Bulk personal datasets or BPDs refer to data or information about a large set of people, most of whom are not of interest to intelligence agencies or the police. They are meant to make it easier for police and intel agencies to focus in on suspected terrorists or criminals (though that’s up for dispute and we’ll get into it later). Mass surveillance refers to any system that aimlessly collects data without trying to limit it to a well defined target (this is a major sticking point for those against the IP Bill as it stands, but we get into that later as well).

The IP Bill is really long and we don’t expect you to have read all of it, even any of it. Put really simply the main aspect that impacts you is that communications firms, like your internet provider or mobile phone provider will legally have to hold onto your “Internet Connection Record” for a year. This means all the services, websites and data sources you visit will be kept on record for a minimum of a year. Now, it’s important to note that the detail of what you do on all these websites and messaging services are not logged, just the fact that you visited them. It’s a security thing and is sold as a way of ensuring UK citizens stay safe.


Investigatory Powers Bill: If you’re doing nothing wrong, then you’ve got nothing to worry about.

The security ‘big dogs’ in the government and intelligence agencies want to update the laws on surveillance and increase access to communications data in order to combat crime, terrorism and other threats to our national security. This is one of the major arguments for implementing the Investigatory Powers Bill. So that the government can “provide the police and intelligence agencies with the tools to keep you and your family safe”. Now this all sounds well and good but such unlimited access can come with some serious downsides.


Investigatory Powers Bill: What about our right to privacy?

Campaign groups against the Investigatory Powers Bill in its current form recognise that the laws need to be updated, but they also recognise that rushing the process of passing this bill doesn’t allow for a proper, public examination of what the government wishes to legalise.


One of the main sticking points is that mass surveillance is perceived as a  massive infringement of our privacy and that collecting all of our information threatens our data security. Why? The government, the police, intelligence agencies will be able to access our movements online, what sites we visit and who we speak to and all without ever having to ask us personally. They can draw an intimate picture of who we are without ever asking and that scares a lot of people. Questions that have been asked, are whether such action actually makes us any safer or does it leave us vulnerable to criminals, cyber terrorists and make us under suspicion without any wrongdoing on our part. They argue that these extensive surveillance powers overstep the mark in a democratic society.


What stage is the Investigatory Powers Bill at?

The Investigatory Powers Bill is at the second reading phase. If you’re not sure how new laws are made in the UK check out this nifty graphic. This means today (15/03/2016) is the first opportunity for MPs to debate the main principles of the IP Bill. It means MPs both for and against can get together to hash out the pros and cons and raise issues with the Investigatory Powers Bill.


What’s next for the Investigatory Powers Bill and The Haystack?

We decided to investigate the IP Bill at the end of last year when it seemed that there was a sense of urgency in passing this bill – that got us curious. What’s the rush? What started as a small scale investigation has now snowballed into a full blown documentary. Why? Because what was revealed during the process was incredible, the access the government will have, the questions over the effectiveness of these surveillance powers, and the fact that no-one seems to care given it’s in the name of our ‘national security’. This means it is super important that Scenes of Reason presents the facts on both sides of the spectrum, so that you can have the best entry point into this debate…but we need your help.

We want to raise the funds so that we can finish producing this documentary democratically rather than have to take a bias because a corporation has funded us. We are 21% funded with a long way to go. We’re giving out tickets to screenings and various other giveaways including exclusive footage and access before release. Help fund us and be part of our investigation.

Investigatory Powers Bill update: The bill passed at the Second Reading with 266 votes in favour of the Bill. The Labour Party and the Scottish National Party abstained from voting completely rather than voting against the Bill. The next phase will be the Committee stage, where a detailed examination of the Bill takes place.    

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