Home secretary Theresa May unveiled the draft Investigatory Powers Bill in the House of Commons on Wednesday, outlining the steps the government is taking to bolster the snooping capabilities of the police and security agencies in the UK.
V3 took a look at the controversial legislation and how everyone reacted to its publication.
What is it?
The draft Investigatory Powers Bill is the latest surveillance bill designed to offer more support to police and intelligence agencies when combating threats on the internet.
It outlines bulk metadata storage strategies, creates rules governing the intercepting of phone calls and social media messages, and determines who is responsible for overseeing the warrants needed to access such information.
What are the key points?
The government wants web firms to bulk store communications data for 12 months, while giving police and intelligence agencies greater access to the data.
It also outlines heightened powers for UK police forces, including the ability to hack into computer systems and mobile devices to bypass encryption.
Internet firms will be compelled to store user data for up to a year. This form of data includes a record of the websites a citizen has visited, but the government has said full browsing history data will be made available.
The bill also provides increased oversight, and the home secretary will now require a judge to sign off on data access warrants. Furthermore, the prime minister is now required to sign off any sensitive spying operations against journalists, MPs and doctors.
Encryption remains a sticking point, however. The government claimed that it has “no intention” of banning encryption, but there is a lack of clarity when it comes to end-to-end encryption and how it will be treated.
Second, it seeks to legitimise a number of techniques that law enforcement has been using for years. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden show that UK spy agencies were working in murky legal territory for quite some time.
Third, and most obvious, the bill aims to give police greater access to communications data. The police want more phone records, messages, social media profiles and call content.
What was the reaction?
Surprisingly, initial reactions from opposition parties were positive. Labour and Liberal Democrat officials appeared to lend support to the proposals, at least at first glance.
Labour’s Andy Burnham said that the bill was “neither a Snoopers’ Charter nor a plan for mass surveillance”.
“In a world where the threats we face internationally and domestically are growing, Parliament cannot sit on its hands and leave blind spots where the authorities can’t see,” he added.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who has strongly opposed previous versions of the bill, noted that the new draft legislation appeared to be “much improved” from 2012’s Communications Data proposals.
However, as expected, a number of advocacy and civil liberty groups were less convinced.
Privacy International said that the Investigatory Powers Bill only signals the start of a proper privacy debate in the UK.
“After years of downplaying, obscuring and denying the Snowden revelations, the government has finally entered the conversation. For the first time Parliament and the British public will be able to debate mass surveillance powers like bulk interception, bulk hacking and the data-mining of bulk personal data sets,” the group said in a blog post.
The Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA), which counts BT, AOL, EE and Virgin Media as members, welcomed the attempt to “modernise and clarify” surveillance law.
“We will work with the government to ensure that the bill provides ISPs with a clear and stable legal framework that balances necessary powers with oversight whilst minimising the impact on business,” said ISPA secretary general Nicholas Lansman.
The public is increasingly concerned about where their data is being held and who has access to it, and the government has been forced to become more transparent about how it operates when it comes to surveillance.
The bill is slated to come before Parliament in 2016 after facing pre-legislative scrutiny from ministers.
It’s a long document, a lot of which will take time to digest, but there is little doubt that the bill will continue to be fiercely debated and analysed.