Is re-drafted Snoopers Charter end of privacy for UK?

Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

March 2, 2016

Theresa May has unveiled the new draft Investigatory Powers Bill (aka Snoopers Charter), and the legislation has gone from being a terrible proposal to an indecent assault on British citizen’s right to privacy. Long gone are the days of innocent until proven guilty because now Cameron’s government has decided that its police force shall be allowed to look at everybody’s Internet Connection Records (ICRs) all of the time.

As expected, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be forced to retain browsing histories for a year, and will have to supply them to the authorities whenever asked. On a more tyrannical note, the over-reaching government has decided that even local police forces will be able to request those records. All of this, without the need for a warrant: no just cause necessary – nosiness will suffice – Theresa and her cronies have decided.

As if that were not enough, his honorable gentleman’s government has decided to let all and sundry into the data feast, which now includes in its ranks of designated snoopers: certain public authorities, the taxman, and the home office. Take it! Take it all!


At least in older versions of the bill, police were forced to seek a warrant once they had been able to prove that illegal websites had been visited. Now, Theresa has ignored the protestations of those privacy activists that said it was already too nosey, and made the Investigatory Powers Bill into such a tyrannically invasive policy that it is worthy of (once vilified, but now copied) dictatorships around the world.

All of this, in a bill that Theresa May claims has been re-drafted to include provisions to increase user privacy. Really!? Did she think that we would not notice that it has been specially designed to Snoop even more than the last version? It truly is baffling how governments think these days. Though with the way that the US is steadily pushing through similarly terrible legislation (in end of the year fiscal omnibuses, and the like), it is to my mind almost a certainty that it is only a little time now before this legislation is signed into law.

As such, your options are slim. A VPN service will remove you from the crowd, making it impossible for ISPs to know what you are doing. Of course, the government could start applying pressure to VPN service providers: but with the majority of the honest ones holding records for only short periods of time, even then they will only get so much, if anything, out of their hands.

Your other option is to start packing your bags and pick a remote country (not in Europe because most of those countries are bringing in their versions of this tyrannical law) like Thailand. Where you will have to live on a beach in order to escape from the wrath, that is becoming of the once-free Internet.

The Government has claimed that this is all hot air and that privacy activists such as myself are off our rockers because ICRs only offer a tiny snapshot into the online activities of each UK resident. This, however, is an outright lie, because the truth is that a digital footprint is a rich tapestry that can be dissected carefully either by hand (or with the use of cleverly put together algorithms), and a lot can be told about a person.


Frustratingly, it would appear that the changes have been introduced after lawmakers challenged the old draft of the bill. Complaining at that time, that it did not protect user privacy because it did not clearly enough explain the police’s powers,

‘The current lack of clarity within the draft investigatory powers bill is causing concern amongst businesses… The government must urgently review the legislation so that the obligations on the industry are clear and proportionate.’ commented Conservative MP Nicola Blackwood in February. It is because of this report that now, disturbingly (to rectify that problem), the bill has been redrafted with the entirety of its brazen powers laid to bare.

Also problematic; the law makes it permissible for intelligence agencies to hack into people’s computers and phones in the case of serious crimes, or ‘life-threatening’ instances – such as in the event of a missing person hunt. Though on the surface that seems acceptable, the legislation also calls on internet companies to be able to let government agencies into encrypted applications, such as messengers, should that life threatening instance arise.

Similarly to in the San Bernardino iPhone case in the US, however, asking companies to provide that backdoor later on also means that they must have them prepared from the start. Sadly, as everybody knows: any backdoor in encryption that can be used by the government to snoop into communications, can also be used by nefarious cybercriminals who will also find a way to exploit it. There simply is no way to hide a backdoor once it is there; especially not from cybercriminals, or foreign intelligence agencies, that are often incredibly skillful at performing social engineering or Man in the Middle Attacks to get hold of privately held keys.

Lastly, it is worth noting that this legislation goes hand in hand with the UK’s government designed MIKEY-SAKKE protocol, an encryption protocol that gives British intelligence agencies a ‘master key’ to everyone’s encrypted conversations. That backdoor was discovered by Steven Murdoch at University College in London, where he inspected the encryption protocol developed by the UK’s Communications-Electronics Security Group (CESG) the information security department of GCHQ.

The MIKEY-SAKKE protocol is designed to allow GCHQ (and anyone else with access to the master encryption key) to perform mass surveillance on everyone that uses it, and despite being promoted as a British safety standard should be avoided at all costs.

According to political editor Tom McTague, time is now running short before the Snoopers Charter is rushed into action. As such it really may only be a short time now before privacy is officially dead in Britain,

‘Government whips have told Labour that the Bill will be published on 1 March, with a second reading – giving MPs a line-by-line debate on the Bill – scheduled for 14 March. The Bill will then go to committee stage for scrutiny on 22 March, with a final vote expected in Parliament by the end of April.’

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