by Graham Pierrepoint
It’s one of the most divisive pieces of legislation to have been put to UK parliament in considerable years, and continues to receive criticism over whether or not it is swallowing up privacy rights from British citizens – but Prime Minister Theresa May’s Investigative Powers Bill, nicknamed in the media as a ‘Snooper’s Charter’, has been passed by both houses of parliament to face the Queen’s assent, likely later this year. It’s an amendment to legislation that May had proposed during her time on the front bench of the current Conservative government, and it is perhaps fitting that she sees it come to fruition under her leadership – but what exactly will the bill mean for millions of UK citizens, and why is it so hotly opposed?
The bill grants greater investigatory powers to security forces and intelligence agencies, who will now be able to hack into computers, smartphones and other devices via warrant – meaning that if someone is suspected beyond reasonable doubt of committing a felony, intelligence will be able to swoop in and gain access remotely to any device they need to scour, providing they have a relevant warrant to do so.
The bill will also require all UK internet service providers to retain records of all websites visited by all users for up to a year – so that a twelve-month footprint can be retained on what people are browsing for should the need to investigate arise. It is this side of the bill that is receiving considerable criticism, as it will require innocent web users to expect their browsing and search histories to be kept on file for a limited time.
The bill will likely come into force towards the end of 2016 with royal assent, and it has come into play in response to increased threats of terrorism over the past fifteen years – and it will also likely be an asset to law enforcers looking to catch and prosecute for many other online crimes. However, those defending civil liberties are concerned that the law will provide the government and intelligence services with more power than they have ever had over people’s privacy, with some even making comparison to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 – it is clear why there is such opposition to the bill, but it has been advised that it will come into force purely to protect the wider population.
Criticism over the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ will likely continue long into its life in law, and for those fighting for civil liberty and privacy, the news of its passing through parliament will be considered a sizable loss.