29 November 2016
The “snooper’s charter” bill extending the reach of state surveillance in Britain was given royal assent and became law on Tuesday as signatures on a petition calling for it to be repealed passed the 130,000 mark.
The home secretary, Amber Rudd, hailed the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 as “world-leading legislation” that provided “unprecedented transparency and substantial privacy protection”.
But privacy campaigners claimed that it would provide an international standard to authoritarian regimes around the world to justify their own intrusive surveillance powers.
The new surveillance law requires web and phone companies to store everyone’s web browsing histories for 12 months and give the police, security services and official agencies unprecedented access to the data.
It also provides the security services and police with new powers to hack into computers and phones and to collect communications data in bulk. The law requires judges to sign off police requests to view journalists’ call and web records, but the measure has been described as “a death sentence for investigative journalism” in the UK.
The Home Office says some of the provisions in the act will require extensive testing and will not be in place for some time. However, powers to require web and phone companies to collect customers’ communications data will be in force before 31 December, the date when the current Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 expires.
The home secretary said: “The Investigatory Powers Act is world-leading legislation, that provides unprecedented transparency and substantial privacy protection.
“The government is clear that, at a time of heightened security threat, it is essential our law enforcement and security and intelligence services have the power they need to keep people safe. The internet presents new opportunities for terrorists and we must ensure we have the capabilities to confront this challenge. But it is also right that these powers are subject to strict safeguards and rigorous oversight.”
Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, responded to the home secretary’s “world-leading” claim, saying: “She is right, it is one of the most extreme surveillance laws ever passed in a democracy. The IP Act will have an impact that goes beyond the UK’s shores. It is likely that other countries, including authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records, will use this law to justify their own intrusive surveillance powers.”
He said the legislation was debated and passed while the public, media and politicians were preoccupied with Brexit: “Now that the bill has passed, there is renewed concern about the extent of the powers that will be given to the police and security agencies.
“In particular, people appear to be worried about new powers that mean our web browsing activity can be collected by internet service providers and viewed by the police and a whole range of government departments. Parliament may choose to ignore calls for a debate but this could undermine public confidence in these intrusive powers.”
The European court of justice is due to clarify its rulings on
state surveillance shortly,
in a case brought by the deputy leader of the Labour party, Tom
Watson. The court’s ruling could lead to parts of the new
legislation being declared unlawful and in need of amendment,
including restrictions on how the personal confidential data
involved can be used and accessed.