The Investigatory Powers Bill received Royal Assent on the 29th of November, allowing government agencies to view a years worth of internet history for every citizen living in the UK. The bill permits security services the ability to hack into citizen’s computers, mobile devices, networks and servers following warrant approval by the Secretary of State. These methods extend to innocent people, who will be hacked so intelligence agencies can gather information on the real target they are investigating. Those used for such purposes will not need to be notified, meaning you will never know whether or not you have been subject to equipment interference. Exploitation of existing vulnerabilities in software is also justified, meaning agencies can remotely extract, change or destroy data and also monitor users of a device for as long as they feel necessary.
Following the astonishing revelations made by Edward Snowden in 2013, it is no longer a secret that a lot of governments are monitoring their citizens through mass surveillance programs. The findings have now been packaged by the UK government, spearheaded by PM Theresa May and passed into an actual act of parliament. The government now has legal justification for activities that have been branded invasive and inefficient in their aims to combat terrorism. It comes as no surprise that protections against the surveillance has been granted to Members of Parliament.
The wealth of information and connectivity provided by cyberspace has represented a huge threat to the ruling classes since taking off in the early nineties. As a place to go for non-judgemental advice, a place to feed your burning curiosities about any thinkable subject, the internet has provided a safe haven for millions. Under the guise of anti-terrorism, new laws have been bought in by both the US and the UK to tighten control over populations and take away civil liberties, this has now spread to the disorderly and complex world of the internet.
After a year of overwhelming news in the mainstream media, the in-out referendum and subsequent US presidential election, the IP bill was thought to be of little importance by news outlets and went relatively unnoticed by the general public. The UK government now has legal grounds for an almighty surveillance arsenal that would make George Orwell turn in his grave. Advocates for internet privacy have said that in contradiction to the claims that the act will make us safer, mass surveillance is ineffective in preventing serious crime and completely undermines the spirit of our very right to privacy. The bill was passed despite a recent survey from human rights advocates Liberty, who found that ninety percent of British people believed government surveillance powers contained in the new bill were not acceptable.
Jeremy Bentham, English philosopher and social theorist, devised the idea of the Panopticon penitentiary. A prison building designed to allow inmates to be observed by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. The goal is achieved through a circular structure with an inspection house placed in the centre. From here the staff are able to watch the inmates stationed around the perimeter. The central tower shines a bright light so the watchman is able to see everyone in the cells but those in the cells aren’t able to see the watchman. Once an inmate is punished for wrongdoing , the other inmates will naturally behave in a way that prevents them receiving the same treatment. Therefore, the inmates have to assume that they are always under observation and behave accordingly, despite the high probability that they are not being observed.
This idea can be applied to the affect that mass surveillance powers have on users of the internet. Although it’s highly unlikely that in an ocean of data it will be you who will be one singled out, online behaviours may change in the belief that it is possible you are being watched. This could have a serious impact on the way certain groups use the internet, especially if those groups have ideas that contradict the status quo. The dissidents responsible for the critique of those in power now have to decide whether they are comfortable in their endeavours to find answers in cyberspace. Those thinking to find any information that might be deemed in anyway anti-establishment might think twice about browsing the internet for such information.
Snowden believes there is an authoritarian trend emerging in Britain, if he’s right then there is evidence to show that authoritarian states like to monitor dissidents through technological means. In Bahrain for example, online activities of dissidents and news providers are closely monitored and have led to the arrest of many online activists. In the knowledge that there is a centralised database now available to security agencies that could easily be designed for keyword searches and targeted querying, it’s a worrying prospect that one could be added to a list that induces further monitoring and inspection throughout a lifetime.
The idea of mass surveillance as a way of targeting individuals has been heavily debated since the Snowden revelations. It is argued that collecting data of the entire population is an inefficient way to pinpoint individuals who are involved in criminal activities. The sheer size of the data will surely cloud and even hide such activities in plain sight. It’s also not hard to imagine a serious data-breach of some kind, accessing a database that contains the private communications and activities of a whole country’s population poses a challenge that has serious rewards for hackers, who could use such information for money, manipulation and recognition within their field.
As a result of the IP bill, virtual private networks (VPN’s) will rocket in usage in the UK. First used by companies to access their offices remotely when they required sensitive information, VPN’s channel your data from your computer through your internet service provider to a third-party service, before immersing on the internet. In doing so they can obscure your data from your ISP and therefore the government’s collection of browsing history.
Here is a full list of the agencies that will have access to the saved internet history data. – https://yiu.co.uk/blog/who-can-view-my-internet-history/
Petition to help the Open Rights Group campaign on digital rights. – https://www.openrightsgroup.org/updates/sign-up-to-help-our-surveillance-campaign
Petition to abolish MP exemptions from the IP bill – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/174475