Is it 2016? Or 1984?
If you have some questionable Internet history, or maybe some messages that were sent for the recipients eyes only, it’s going to be tough goings for you from here on out. The UK has just passed a massive expansion in surveillance powers, which critics have called ‘terrifying’ and ‘dangerous’.
The new law, dubbed the ‘snoopers’ charter’, was introduced by then-home secretary Theresa May in 2012, and took two attempts to get passed into law. Four years and a general election later, the bill has been finalized and passed on Wednesday.
The new surveillance law requires internet, phone and communication app companies to store records for 12 months and allow authorities to access them on demand, RT reports. That data could be anything from internet search history, calls made or messages sent (including social media messaging apps like Snapchat and Whatsapp).
The law also gives the intelligence agencies the power to hack into computers and devices of citizens. But some protected professions – like journalists and medical staff – are layered with marginally better protections.
It’s the ‘most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy,’ according to Jim Killock, director of the Open Rights Group.
Unsurprisingly, the general public doesn’t seem to be pleased:
So the Tories have chosen a truly alarming point in history to pass a mass surveillance law, aided by Labour. #IPBill
— Loz Kaye (@LozKaye) November 16, 2016
— Traendy (@peters_web_dev) November 17, 2016
— Boris Scumramp (@Scumramp) November 17, 2016
That's it, the #IPBill has gone thru and will soon be an Act. We've given our security services unprecedented powers to spy on us.
— Jenny Jones (@GreenJennyJones) November 16, 2016
The bill was opposed by representatives of the United Nations, all major UK and many leading global privacy and rights groups, and some Silicon Valley tech companies. And that’s not even counting the three-quarters of people who think privacy is a human right.
But there are some safeguards. The secretary of state and an independent judicial commissioner must agree on a decision to carry out search warrants (though one member of the House of Lords has disputed that claim), and a new investigatory powers commissioner will also oversee the use of the powers.
People who aren’t quite ready to give up their online privacy can potentially get around the bill via Virtual Private Network software, which scrambles your usage data.
In the meantime, the law will be ratified by royal assent in the coming weeks.