A year ago, we wrote about how the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, now called the Snoopers Charter for a reason, carried a few Christmas gifts that you could live without. We talked about the government recording web browsing histories, the police accessing web pages that you visited without warrant and the GCHQ hacking into your computer to watch what you're up to. Well, it's law now and it's all about national interest, so giving up your privacy seems to be a small price to pay for it.
The Snoopers' Charter gifts authorities additional surveillance powers over the internet, letting them monitor, decipher and intercept all kinds of communication in the name of national security. ISPs are required to save web browser histories, VPNs won't work and end-to-end encryption will be somewhat compromised to ensure that the authorities are able to see what they want to see.
The law empowers the Prime Minister to appoint an Investigatory Powers Commissioner who will keep tabs on or overrule decisions taken by a Judicial Commissioner. The work of a Judicial Commissioner is to approve or send back any orders using which authorities can ask communication providers to implement technical changes or give details of new product plans. In any case, the ultimate authority rests with an official appointed by the Prime Minister directly.
How affected you will be will depend on how much software companies and device manufacturers will bow to the Government's demand. Technology giant Apple has already made it clear that additional surveillance powers with the authorities will undermine data encryption and the security of your personal data will thus be compromised. Apple has also said that the law will sanction interference with its products, encourage other nations to bring in similar legislations and even force foreign firms to bypass the laws of their own country.
"If you halt or weaken encryption, the people that you hurt are not the folks that want to do bad things. It’s the good people. The other people know where to go," Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an interview to The Telegraph. We believe very strongly in end to end encryption and no back doors. We don’t think people want us to read their messages. We don’t feel we have the right to read their emails."
Microsoft has also warned that it will warn users if it reasonably believes that state-sponsored hackers are trying to infiltrate your accounts. “We’re taking this additional step of specifically letting you know if we have evidence that the attacker may be ‘state-sponsored’ because it is likely that the attack could be more sophisticated or more sustained than attacks from cybercriminals and others," said Microsoft in a statement.
It remains to be seen how much the Government may plan to use the law in the coming days to intercept and decipher perceived threats and how much of the government's attention will turn to e-mail or social media accounts owned by the citizenry. Some technology companies have taken a brave stand so far but it remains to be seen how long they will be able to uphold their principles in defiance of the law.