This post was originally published on November 23, 2016.
On November 16, 2016, the House of Lords approved the final version of the Investigatory Powers Bill. Nicknamed the “Snooper’s Charter,” the bill will extend the surveillance capabilities of law enforcement agencies and the state to levels never seen in a western democracy.
The Investigatory Powers Bill: a summary
The House of Lords and the House of Commons jointly reviewed the Investigatory Powers Bill, giving it some serious clout. In essence, the bill requires internet service providers and phone companies to retain records of their customers’ browsing data for up to one year. Furthermore, these records will be accessible to dozens of public authorities upon the issue of a warrant.
What are the consequences of such a controversial bill? ExpressVPN looks at the three biggest implications of the Investigatory Powers Bill for individual netizens (i.e. you).
1. More government departments with your information = less privacy
The Department for Transport, Department of Health, HMRC, NHS, Food Standards Agency, and Gambling Commission. What does this diverse group of government agencies share in common? Answer: They (and many others) will soon be able to access any data stored on your electrical devices, upon the issue of a warrant.
Currently, MPs and their constituents are afforded a right to privacy under the Wilson Doctrine. But under the new bill, conversations between members of Parliament and their constituents will likely no longer be secret.
Intelligence groups won’t be able to listen in on these conversations without approval from the Prime Minister and a senior judge, but the Investigatory Powers Bill will compromise the confidentiality of your information—whether you initially chose to share it with the government or not.
2. Future mobile devices will be less secure
In the past, consumers could trust device manufacturers to protect their digital rights. Apple, for example, is well-known for its use of full-disk encryption and refusal to build surveillance backdoors into products.
There are currently no details on how the UK government will force foreign companies like Apple to cooperate with the Investigatory Powers Bill. One theoretical possibility, though, is that companies failing to produce compliant designs will have their products declared illegal.
In other words, future mobile devices will likely come with a backdoor that facilitates hacking by security bodies. And if the government can access your device via that backdoor, then surely any tech-savvy third-party can too.
3. Privacy is up to the user, more than ever
The biggest implication of the Investigatory Powers Bill is that more than ever, your online privacy is in your hands.
The bill reportedly exempts MPs, doctors, and lawyers but it’s unclear how their internet traffic will be distinguished. The best defense, therefore, is to be conscious of what you share on all of your devices. In other words: If you don’t share it, no one can get a hold of it.
In keeping with this idea, beware of sharing your location online, don’t access your personal accounts from public machines/Wi-Fi connections, and remember to use a VPN to secure and anonymize your internet connection.
Defend your online privacy from the Snooper’s Charter
The Investigatory Powers Bill is a reminder that we all need to step up for online privacy. Instead of allowing government agencies and device manufacturers to access our data and hoping for the best, we need to be informed netizens and vocal advocates for digital freedom.
Here are some things you can do today:
- Incorporate these top privacy tips in your online life
- Use anonymous browsing tools like the Tor browser
- Support digital rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight for the Future
- Start discussions to raise awareness about heightened government surveillance
How do you feel about the House of Lords approving the Investigatory Powers Bill? What steps do you take to fight for online privacy? Share your thoughts below!