New UK surveillance law dubbed "most extreme" in western world

The controversial Investigatory Powers Bill, nicknamed the "Snoopers' Charter," has formally passed into law. An official petition calling for the act to be repealed has attracted over 140,000 signatures.

Photo by: Getty/Thomas Jackson
Photo by: Getty/Thomas Jackson

The law allows government agencies to view people's internet history, legalises the bulk collection of communications data, and grants the police – as well as the UK’s tax authority and the Home Office – permission to hack into phones and other devices.

UK government bodies ranging from the police and intelligence agencies to the Welsh Ambulance Service and Department for Transport will shortly be able to access Internet records of members of the public without a warrant.

This is after the final version of the Investigatory Powers Bill, also known as the "Snooper's Charter," was approved by the House of Lords on November 16 and granted royal assent – meaning it formally passed into law – on Tuesday.

It will probably take some time for all the provisions in the bill to be fully implemented, as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the government adapt to its requirements. But it looks like the surveillance powers it grants –  unprecedented in democratic countries – are here to stay.

The bill was passed by the House of Commons in March, at a time when public attention was focused on the lead-up to the referendum on the UK's EU membership on June 23. (Reuters)

The law requires ISPs to keep records of the websites (although not the specific pages) that their customers visit for one year and allows the aforementioned government agencies, in addition to many others, to easily access these.

In addition, it also legalises bulk collection of communications data and grants the police – as well as the UK’s tax authority and the Home Office – permission to hack into phones and other devices.

Although the bill received relatively little media coverage in the UK until after it was passed, a public backlash has since emerged.

An official petition calling for the law to be revoked has received over 140,000 signatures as of November 30 – meaning that it must now be debated in parliament again.

Civil rights and privacy groups such as Liberty have heavily attacked the legislation, with Jim Killock, director of the Open Rights Group, stating it was the "most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy."

Despite the criticism, the government of Prime Minister Theresa May has strongly defended the bill – claiming that it strengthens safeguards against officials abusing their access to Internet data, requires a judge to review hacking orders, and grants additional protection to journalists and members of parliament who cannot be spied on without good reason.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said, "This government is clear that, at a time of heightened security threat, it is essential our law enforcement, security and intelligence services have the powers they need to keep people safe.

"The Investigatory Powers Act is world-leading legislation that provides unprecedented transparency and substantial privacy protection."

Considering the vast number of surveillance measures it makes legal and available, the bill definitely seems to be "world-leading," but – depending on who you ask – maybe not in the way its supporters claim.

TRTWorld and agencies