Last week, in a troubling development for privacy advocates everywhere, we reported that the UK has passed the "snooper charter" effectively ending all online privacy. Now, the mainstream media has caught on and appears to be displeased. As AP writes today, "after months of wrangling, Parliament has passed a contentious new snooping law that gives authorities — from police and spies to food regulators, fire officials and tax inspectors — powers to look at the internet browsing records of everyone in the country."
For those who missed our original reports, here is the new law in a nutshell: it requires telecom companies to keep records of all users' web activity for a year, creating databases of personal information that the firms worry could be vulnerable to leaks and hackers. Civil liberties groups say the law establishes mass surveillance of British citizens, following innocent internet users from the office to the living room and the bedroom. They are right.
While Edward Snowden previously blasted the law, none other than Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing World Wide Web, tweeted news of the law's passage with the words: "Dark, dark days."
Coming at a time when the mainstream media is lashing out at non-traditional websites, which it brands either with the derogatory "altright", or simply slams as "Russian propaganda" to deflect from the fact that the MSM has been exposed as being a PR arm of the ruling establishment, the Investigatory Powers Bill- called the "snoopers' charter" by critics - was passed by UK Parliament this month after more than a year of debate and amendments, and with its passage shifts "1984" from the fiction to the non-fiction section, as the formation of the surveillance police state is now effectively complete.
The charter will become law when it receives the formality of royal assent next week but - as AP notes - big questions remain about how it will work, and the government acknowledges it could be 12 months before internet firms have to start storing the records.
"It won't happen in a big bang next week," Home Office official Chris Mills told a meeting of internet service providers on Thursday. "It will be a phased program of the introduction of the measures over a year or so."
The government says the new law "ensures powers are fit for the digital age," replacing a patchwork of often outdated rules and giving law-enforcement agencies the tools to fight terrorism and serious crime.
In a move right out of the Soviet Union's darkest days (which never even imagned central planning to the extent that modern "developed market" central bankers have unleashed this decade), the law requires telecommunications companies to store for a year the web histories known as internet connection records — a list of websites each person has visited and the apps and messaging services they used, though not the individual pages they looked at or the messages they sent.
The government has called that information the modern equivalent of an itemized phone bill. But critics say it's more like a personal diary. Julian Huppert, a former Liberal Democrat lawmaker who opposed the bill, said it "creates a very intrusive database."
"People may have been to the Depression Alliance website, or a marriage guidance website, or an abortion provider's website, or all sorts of things which are very personal and private," he said.
Officials won't need a warrant to access the data, and the list of bodies that can see it includes not just the police and intelligence services, but government departments, revenue and customs officials and even the Food Standards Agency. "My worry is partly about their access," Huppert said. "But it's much more deeply about the prospects for either hacking or people selling information on."
Even worse, the new law also makes official — and legal — British spies' ability to hack into devices and harvest vast amounts of bulk online data, much of it from outside the U.K. In doing so, it both acknowledges and sets limits on the secretive mass-snooping schemes exposed by Edward Snowden.
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Which government agencies have access to the internet history of any British citizen? Here is the answer courtesy of blogger Chris Yuo, who has compiled the list:
- Metropolitan police force
- City of London police force
- Police forces maintained under section 2 of the Police Act 1996
- Police Service of Scotland
- Police Service of Northern Ireland
- British Transport Police
- Ministry of Defence Police
- Royal Navy Police
- Royal Military Police
- Royal Air Force Police
- Security Service
- Secret Intelligence Service
- Ministry of Defence
- Department of Health
- Home Office
- Ministry of Justice
- National Crime Agency
- HM Revenue & Customs
- Department for Transport
- Department for Work and Pensions
- NHS trusts and foundation trusts in England that provide ambulance services
- Common Services Agency for the Scottish Health Service
- Competition and Markets Authority
- Criminal Cases Review Commission
- Department for Communities in Northern Ireland
- Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland
- Department of Justice in Northern Ireland
- Financial Conduct Authority
- Fire and rescue authorities under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004
- Food Standards Agency
- Food Standards Scotland
- Gambling Commission
- Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority
- Health and Safety Executive
- Independent Police Complaints Commissioner
- Information Commissioner
- NHS Business Services Authority
- Northern Ireland Ambulance Service Health and Social Care Trust
- Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service Board
- Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Regional Business Services Organisation
- Office of Communications
- Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland
- Police Investigations and Review Commissioner
- Scottish Ambulance Service Board
- Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission
- Serious Fraud Office
- Welsh Ambulance Services National Health Service Trust
In other words, everyone.
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While privacy groups unsucessfully battled to stop the new legislation, and now will challenge it in court, public opposition has been largely muted in part because the bill's passage has been overshadowed by Britain's vote to leave the European Union and the scandalous upheaval that has followed.
How did that old saying go... "don't let a crisis go to waste." Well, the UK is now independent from Europe, and in the process its population quietly lost all of its internet privacy.
Renate Samson, chief executive of the group Big Brother Watch, said it would take time for the full implications of the law to become clear to the public.
"We now live in a digital world. We are digital citizens," Samson said. "We have no choice about whether or not we engage online. This bill has fundamentally changed how we are able to privately and securely communicate with one another, communicate with business, communicate with government and live an online life. And that's a real, profound concern."
It remains to be seen if the UK's citizens will be able overturn the law once it does become clear to the public what has just happened.