The new ‘Snoopers Charter’, known officially as the ‘Investigatory Powers Bill‘ is currently going through Parliament. Many will recall that the old Snoopers Charter, the Draft Communications Data Bill, was withdrawn a few years ago due to widespread opposition on account of privacy and civil liberties concerns. Had that legislation got through, then details about whom literally everybody calls, tweets, texts, and IMs, their social network activity, whom they send web mails to, what games they play, would have been logged and the data retained for 12 months. The ‘Big Brother’ mass surveillance state envisioned by George Orwell in his book 1984, would have come one step closer to being realised
Nevertheless, the current Government remains determined to get its way in terms of turning this country into a mass surveillance society by introducing a new Snoopers Charter, as the new proposals under the Investigatory Powers Bill are little different to the old failed Draft Communications Data Bill. The current proposals would, just like the old proposals, oblige internet and telecoms companies to retain every users communications data (i.e. emails, internet browsing history, phone calls, IMs, text messages, emails) for 12 months. Moreover, numerous different agencies and organisations would have unfettered access to the data. Given the various data leaks, hacking scandals, and data thefts over the last decade, these proposals would have wider implications in terms of the potential for fraud, identity theft, and other criminal activity.
The fact that the new Snoopers Charter has not created the same kind of outcry as the old one, highlights how successful the Government has been in keeping the passage of the Investigatory Powers Bill through Parliament quiet. In an article in the Guardian on the 5th June 2016 entitled: ‘Snooper’s charter: Most Britons unaware of Tory plans, survey finds‘, Mark Townsend points out in relation to a new poll published by Liberty, that “Britons could be sleepwalking into a new era of state surveillance powers…..the poll found that 92% of respondents who were aware of the proposals – described as a “snooper’s charter” by critics – disapproved of them. But 72% of respondents said that they knew nothing about it.“
The words ‘project fear’ have been used extensively in relation to the Brexit referendum. However, the term would be very apt in relation to the Government’s new attempts to justify mass surveillance, by trying to push the legislation through on the back of worries about terrorism, organised crime, and so on. Nevertheless, such powers can only really be justified in very limited specific cases where there is hard evidence that a particular individual is involved in criminal activity.
As Bella Sankey, director of policy for Liberty, states: “This bill would create a detailed profile on each of us which could be made available to hundreds of organisations to speculatively trawl and analyse. It will all but end online privacy, put our personal security at risk and swamp law enforcement with swathes of useless information.”
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