You may have heard of the Investigatory Powers Bill which the government is desperate to get through parliament after the failure of its Communications Data Bill (Snooper’s Charter) last year.
The Bill has been presented by the government as being essential to combat terrorism and serious criminal activities, and you may think that it doesn’t really affect you because you have ‘nothing to hide’ or are not a criminal – think again.
Clauses within the draft Bill give unprecedented powers to the government (not just security services and police) to collect personal data (not just internet activities) on every citizen and use it as they want with no meaningful judicial checks or balances in place.
You may think that the Bill covers investigations by security services and police. However, the proposed legislation allows a range of organisations not involved in security matters to access your personal data.
If the Bill is passed into law, there will be no other European or Commonwealth country that would have such wide sweeping power over its citizens. In effect, the UK will embark on surveillance which is more akin to an electronic version of former East Germany’s Stasi than a supposed democracy.
This is why many organisations and individuals are campaigning against the Bill’s introduction.
In addition to the content of the Bill and the proposed structure for implementing the legislation, the government has come under criticism for the reduced amount of time it has given interested parties to consider the full implications of a law which will significantly change the foundation of UK law.
In effect, the government is attempting to railroad through very similar legislation that was contained in the Communications Data Bill. They have been trying to get this kind of legislation introduced in its entirety for over 6 years.
When considering this proposed legislation, we need to keep in mind that the police and security services already have power to intercept communications and data on every citizen – provided they get a warrant through due judicial process.
Also of concern are the two types of information targeting contained in the bill.
Targeted: this form of interception is used on UK citizens. It can be done to a person, a group or an organisation by the police, the intelligence agencies or the armed forces. The request must be specific as to who or what will be spied on and where.
Bulk: involves mass interception which is not related to any current investigation. Intelligence agencies will be able to engage in this kind of interception.
The main publicity around the Bill has been concerning the requirement of telecommunication providers to retain each customer’s communication activity for one year.
These data are referred to as Internet Connection Records (ICR), and under the Bill will be accessible to organisations named in the bill. In addition to police and security services, this data will be accessible (on production of a warrant – see about warrants later on) by other government organisations. These include:
- Department of Health
- Home Office (Immigration)
- Ministry of Justice (National Offender Management Service)
- Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs
- Department for Transport (Coastguard Agency, air, maritime, and rail investigation branches)
- Department for Work and Pensions (Fraud and Error Services, Child Maintenance Group)
- Competition and Markets Authority
- Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland
- Financial Conduct Authority
- A fire and rescue authority under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004
- Food Standards Agency
- Gambling Commission
- Gangmasters Licensing Authority
- Health and Safety Executive
- Independent Police Complaints Commission
- Information Commissioner
- National Health Service Business Services Authority
- A National Health Service Trust
- Northern Ireland Ambulance Service Health and Social Care Trust
- Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service Board
- Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Regional Business Services Organisation
- Office of Communications
- Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland
- Police Investigations and Review Commissioner
- Scottish Ambulance Service Board
- Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission
- Serious Fraud Office
- Welsh Ambulance Services National Health Service Trust
Internet Connection Records will contain a log of every website you visit and all app/software you use which uses a data connection, whether that is a static (such as a smart TV, computer, etc) or mobile device.
The record will contain the date and time the device connected to obtain data, the data it obtained, as well as other devices it connects to.
As we use data communication more and more in our daily lives, we reveal much more about ourselves than we realise. In addition to factual data, inspection of the information contained in ICRs can reveal our personalities, our interests, our concerns, and all other aspects of our lives.
Using advanced logarithms, the government can build a detailed profile of every citizen who uses data communication.
As we mentioned before, the purpose the government has put into the public domain is that this legislation is needed to combat criminal activities.
However, the real purpose is to profile citizens who may be problematic and pose a threat to the government’s power.
A couple of the most obvious examples are activists and union members who may engage in private conversations between themselves expressing concern about a particular aspect of government, and who may discuss action to address their concerns.
On a much subtler level, the analysis of collected data could be used for more targeted social engineering, or attempting to implement more oppressive legislation or policies if the government perceives a threat to its power.
The information could also be used to shut down or restrict access to information sources the government deem to be a threat to their power.
At the current time, our basic browsing history is considered to be personal information. Intrusion into this data could potentially breach Article 8 and Article 10 of the Human Rights Act, namely a right to respect for a private life and the right to freedom of expression and information.
Another major problem for telecoms providers is the collection and retention of such huge amounts of data.
The collection of data will require telecoms providers to spend considerable resources on technology. They will also have to make considerable investments in secure storage of data, and in ensuring that the data remains secure.
At the current time, the Bill does not address data security and the measures that will need to be in place.
Organisations who wish to access the records will require a warrant.
However, the term ‘warrant’ is misleading.
When we think of a warrant being issued we generally think that there has been some kind of due judicial process and a judge has considered the warrant application.
This is not the case under the Bill.
In fact, there is no meaningful judicial process whatsoever for the issue of a warrant under the Bill.
Intelligence agencies will be granted warrants by the Secretary of State.
Police forces will have warrants granted by a Chief Constable.
Local authorities will have their warrants approved by a magistrate, and other public bodies will have their warrants approved by a designated senior person.
In all cases the granting of warrants is ‘reviewed’ by a ‘Judicial Commissioner’, and the police have an alternative review process through a ‘Single Point of Contact’ within the police.
The ‘Judicial Commissioner’ can review the granting of warrants already made, and can disagree with a decision in writing, but there is no process (in the current proposals) where a ‘Judicial Commissioner’ can stop a warrant being granted in the first place.
This differs considerably to the current system where a warrant application must be approved by a suitably qualified member of the legal profession (such as a judge) before being in force.
If a ‘Judicial Commissioner’ disagrees with a decision they can explain their reason in writing. But their word isn’t final. The Secretary of State can go over their head and ask the more senior Investigatory Powers Commissioner, to review the warrant again.
In essence, there is no judicial authority involved in the issue of a warrant under the Bill, only a ‘review’ (rubber-stamping exercise) after the fact.
The Bill also allows for a warrant to be changed or modified after it has been issued, with no limitations on the time within which changes can be made.
Depending on the warrant a modification can include the adding, removing or varying of:
- Descriptions of a person, organisation, location
- Any factor specified on the original warrant
- The operational purpose specified for examination of data
In effect, once a warrant is issued it can be changed to suit the purpose of the investigating authority to which it was issued. Again, there are no meaningful checks or balances in place.
Secrecy in the courts
Evidence gathered by intercepting data can not be used in court, and can not be disclosed, questioned, or referred to in any way.
The government claim that that the majority of MI5’s investigations use interception to identify suspects and the police repeatedly point to interception of phone calls as critical to investigating crime, but they both claim that revealing how they use this power would be damaging to their work.
Equipment Interference (EI), Computer Network Exploitation (CNE), and property interference are names the government have given to hacking in relation to the Bill.
Under the Bill, hacking can be used by the police and the intelligence agencies; MI5, MI6 or GCHQ, to change, destroy, or obtain data in secret.
In addition to surveillance and obtaining evidence, this would effectively give any organisation with a warrant the ability to restrict and change information or other data to which the public have access – thereby allowing secret censorship.
Any communication device can be hacked under the Bill, including permitting the remote control of devices (including microphones and cameras).
Bulk Personal Datasets
Anyone who is a UK citizen will be on one bulk personal dataset or another.
These datasets include things like the electoral role, NHS records, banking and credit card data, credit reference agency data, DVLA information, and so on.
No company or organisation can refuse to surrender their data to the authority under a warrant, and can not query its use.
There are already systems in place that serve to assist in the prevention of crime – systems which have been in place for decades.
The systems are efficient and offer checks and balances which go some way to restricting the political use of surveillance by the security services.
It has only been since the Conservative Party has become involved in government during the past six years or so that proposals for far reaching surveillance powers have been thrust into the public domain.
Despite repeated attempts, the Conservatives have failed to gain any ground in implementing their draconian and oppressive legislation to any significant degree.
As with any proposal which will meet with public concern, the government have embarked on a propaganda campaign to try and justify introducing the proposed powers.
First of all, it was alleged that the powers were needed to intercept paedophiles – which has since been proven to be untrue, and the number of arrests for this type of crime continue to increase with current legal powers in place.
When the government realised that this particular area of propaganda was failing to win favour with the public, and was constantly being exposed as being untrue (despite rolling out pseudo-experts), they turned their focus to terrorism.
According to the government (and yet more ‘experts’ – aka cronies) they need these powers to be able to monitor and investigate potential terrorist threats. Again, this is possible within the current legal structure and does not need changing. The security services are perfectly capable of intercepting communications (as the revelations of Edward Snowden demonstrated) without additional powers – especially powers as far reaching as the Bill would permit.
The list of organisations the government proposes to give the new powers to is also of concern. Effectively, they are proposing that every area of government has the power to obtain and use the data the Bill refers to.
Apart from this being unnecessary, another major concern of critics of the Bill is that of security.
The government are barely able to keep the information they already have secure, let alone the phenomenal amount of data that would be generated through their proposals.
As we have seen with this government time and time again, the ostensible reason is very rarely the real reason for introducing oppressive legislation and policies.
If this Bill is introduced it sets a precedent for future legislation and will have serious ramifications on the daily lives of every person in the country.
The government have already abused their power by introducing back-door legislation, usually through the issue of statutory instruments (amendments or clarifications) to existing legislation – a process with minimal checks and balances.
This is of particular concern when the proposed Bill contains many grey or vague references which can be changed quite easily in the future if the government wishes to do so.
As we mentioned before, even if you are not engaged in criminal activities or think you have nothing to hide, the introduction of this legislation is extremely dangerous to every citizen in the UK.
It gives the government total control over what they do and how they do it with no effective checks or balances in place – by the way, this is also the real reason the government want to leave the EU.
You can be sure that as we become subjects of more government profiling they will design policies for their own benefit, and the benefit of their cronies – which will inevitably lead to more economic slavery and a grossly unbalanced social system.
If you are concerned (which you should be) about the introduction of this legislation, the Joint Committee considering the draft legislation want to hear your opinions.
Submissions will be considered up to the 21st December 2015, and you can visit their website here for more information. You can also contact your MP concerning this Bill.
The primary source for the information contained in this article is Big Brother Watch, and further information together with fact sheets can be obtained from their website here.
“Power does not corrupt men; fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power.”– George Bernard Shaw
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