Your Internet Privacy is Under Threat: How The Snooper’s Charter Will Affect You

Image Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The Investigatory Powers Bill — a hugely intrusive new law more commonly known as the Snooper’s Charter — is likely set to become law in the UK before the end of 2016. The bill has passed its third reading in the House of Lords, meaning that the government is preparing to enforce by the year’s end. This is troubling news for those concerned about their privacy.

The Snooper’s Charter is ostensibly intended to monitor potential criminal activity by way of allowing the UK government to conduct surveillance of equipment and data, effectively meaning that they can spy on their citizens by way of accessing their smartphones, laptops and more. The 300-page bill, which was first proposed by then-Home Secretary and current Prime Minister Theresa May, has been branded draconian by its detractors, with its wording being kept deliberately vague so as to allow the government to have access to as many surveillance techniques as possible.

While those supporting the bill will defend it by pointing out how it will allow authorities to more adequately prevent terrorism, the success rate of similar tactics employed by the US government has been regularly brought into question. Following the NSA leaks, critics in the US claimed that despite the mass amount of citizen surveillance employed without the public’s knowledge, there was no concrete proof of the measures taken by the NSA actually working to prevent terrorism. The same is being predicted for the Snooper’s Charter, with those who have been lobbying against the bill stating that it will not help protect UK citizens, but will instead ensure that the government can more easily infringe upon their basic rights and privacy. Here’s how the Snooper’s Charter will directly affect you after it is passed later this year:


ISPs storing your web history for 12 months


Prime Minister Theresa May proposed the bill back when she was Health Secretary. (Image Credit: Justin Tallis / Getty Images)

There are a number of major new threats to our privacy that will arise from the enforcement of the Snooper’s Charter. The most troubling of the new rules set to be enforced is that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be required to store records of your web browsing history for 12 months, with these companies legally entitled to show them to police upon request.

On top of this, web companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter would also be required to store individual data records for a year, too, though this is a more complex issue that will likely see the UK government faced with opposition by these foreign companies. However, if a deal is struck then this effectively means that your personal browsing history will remain available for viewing at any point, which makes everyone more susceptible to attacks from hackers. With the security of this data being left up to the discretion of the ISPs, web companies and government, one misstep could place the web history of internet users under direct threat, leaving them very vulnerable to cyber crimes.

But that’s not all: this rule covers not just ISPs, but Communications Service Providers (CSPs) too, which even includes telephone companies and postal services. This means that outside of the government being granted access to your internet history, if they target you they can successfully gain access to your phone records and even intercept your post.


Bulk hacking

Another threat to your security is a rule that will allow for bulk hacking, which will allow the government to access communications data in bulk, giving them the most amount of information in the shortest time possible. An example of a bulk hack would be the government gaining access to NHS health records, a terrifying scenario which effectively puts your entire medical history at risk.

With so many keeping their medical history private out of fear they it will potentially affect their careers and livelihoods, the government being able to access such data yet again increases the threat of hackers being able to obtain this data. As is the case with the Snooper’s Charter’s impact upon CSPs, hackers could find a way to infiltrate the information withheld by the government, and effectively use it to blackmail those whose personal information they have compromised.


Bugging phones and computers


Image Credit: Thomas Trutschel / Getty Images

The Snooper’s Charter will also allow security services to receive warrants that will allow them to legally bug phones and computers, with them able to monitor a user’s activity in real-time. Though it seems more likely that this tactic would solely implicate actual criminals, rather than providing a threat to innocent civilians as in the case with the other rules, this would also allow the government to effectively bypass encryption.

Encryption is intended to keep communications data safe and private, though the UK government attempting to create backdoors would therefore leave encrypted data vulnerable and potentially accessible by others. Though there are caveats that could ensure encryption remains in tact, such as the government outlining in a revised version of the Investigatory Powers Bill that companies can only be asked to bypass encryption if they themselves enforced it or if it is “practicable for them to do so,” the threat is still concerning.