For some time now Theresa May has been the name that springs to mind when there is talk of draconian British (privacy-invading) digital laws. The Snoopers Charter is controversial proposed legislation that came from May’s ‘liberal, conservative’ mind during her position as Home Secretary. The digital surveillance Bill (which is in the process of moving through Parliament at the moment) would grant the authorities unprecedented access to the British public’s digital data.
Now that May has inherited her place at number 10, people that were concerned before are feeling the pressure rise in their veins. Theresa May is the queen of snoop, and now that she is top dog many people fear that she will be able to run down any digital rabbit hole she likes. That spells trouble and is making many people feel a gross amount of anguish for the UK’s digital footprint.
Harmit Kambo, campaigns director at Privacy International, sums the situation up well with his comments,
‘Theresa May has been a draconian Home Secretary, introducing the wrong policies at the wrong times for the wrong reasons. Instead of responding to public alarm about the Edward Snowden disclosures by rolling back state surveillance powers, she has instead ratcheted it up with the Investigatory Powers Bill, the most intrusive surveillance legislation of any democratic country.’
It isn’t just ‘little Britain’ that will be affected, either. Multinational technology and Internet firms have already expressed their distaste for the surveillance laws that the new Prime Minister is so keen on. Legislation that would force companies to breach their own security in order to comply with the regulations.
“Hang on a second”; I hear you say. “Isn’t cybersecurity one of the most important factors that companies should be trying to batten down in this day and age? When corporations Worldwide are battling against the wave of cybercriminals who wish to succubus their servers of all the sensitive data that customers have entrusted them with?”
Unfortunately, you are quite right, and the proposed Investigatory Powers bill could put strong encryption methods seriously at risk within Britain.
Later this month, Theresa May will have her policies placed under the spotlight when the European courts make a decision on whether the RIPA legislation (used to spy on Britons) is legal. That case, which is being brought before the tribunal by MPs David Davis and Tom Watson, will be a serious point of interest.
Those two British MPs are convinced that the surveillance bill is unlawful. The reality, however, is that even if the court agrees – the ruling won’t be binding – which is why what happens after the verdict is made will be such an interesting tipping point.
For now, Brexit is a work in progress, meaning that Britain is still very much a part of the EU. At the moment, most of the digital legislation that the UK is accustomed to was created by the EU.
Despite the fact that the new Prime Minister was herself a proponent for remaining in the EU, Brexit could allow May to quash many of the European laws that help to protect the UK’s online privacy.
The Investigatory Powers Bill would mean that everyone’s web browsing history is stored for 12 months, ready to be sifted through at any moment without the need for a warrant.
Jim Killock, from Open Rights Group, believes leaving the EU could cause some massive fundamental changes to the way that things in Britain are done,
‘What happens to data protection law? Do we have the same standards, or ones that are similar or weaker? Nearly everything we do that’s digital is European law at the moment.’
Could Theresa May be bad for the Digital Economy?
Coherent digital legislation right across the EU’s boundaries allows for commerce to take place unimpeded, whereas too much red tape could make the UK incredibly unattractive. Causing established digital businesses, as well as startups, to look elsewhere in order to protect themselves and their clients. John Shaw from security firm Sophos feels that software designers, for instance, could be forced to move abroad. Matthew Hare from ISPA concurs,
‘If I was a software business, I would be very worried my customers would not buy my software, because [they] would be worried that there was a backdoor built into this software that would allow the UK to look into my software’.
The fact that Google, Apple, and Facebook have all indicated that the snoopers’ charter would be bad for the UK’s digital economy should ring alarm bells. After all, a robust and vibrant digital strategy for Britain – that allows firms to run their businesses securely – is key to maintaining Britain’s position as an economic powerhouse. Especially if it is going to be out on its own.
The danger, one can not help noticing, is that if Britain degenerates into an Orwellian nightmare then corporations could just choose to move away in search of a more attractive location for their business’ strategy. On the other hand, repudiating too many of the laws that we are subjected to inside the EU too quickly – and without making sure they have been rewritten correctly by the British constitution – could mean that those decisions are left to civil servants, causing widespread chaos.
In her position at the Home Office, Theresa May has pushed for ever more surveillance powers; under the guise of anti-terror legislation. Without reasonable protections for privacy, however, both the UK’s electorate and businesses could suffer significantly, and the UK’s Parliament just doesn’t seem to care about digital privacy.
Despite being a ‘remainer’ before she was made Prime Minister, Theresa May was already talking about leaving the European court of human rights and the European convention. Now there is a real worry that without anyone standing above her to provide oversight, no one will be safe from the prying eyes of her legislation. Not even MPs.
In June, May made some concessions to the snoopers’ charter. One of those was the Wilson doctrine (added to allow MPs the fair ability to communicate privately with their constituents). That amendment says that the ‘prime minister must give explicit approval for law enforcement agencies to hack into MPs’ phones and computer as well as to access their communications data.’ In her new position as Prime Minister, Theresa May suddenly has that power. Need I say more?
With the likelihood of increased surveillance just over the horizon for the vast majority of the population of Britain, there has never been a better time to invest in a VPN service.