THE UK GOVERNMENT has published the latest version of the Snoopers' Charter and faced further criticism for making only cosmetic changes to the draft that one Parliamentary committee suggested needed to be completely rewritten.
One of the main measures in the bill, the demand that ISPs retain records of people's web browsing habits for at least 12 months, remains unchanged. Indeed, the new bill will expand the power of the police to tap the database.
The cost of implementing all the measures in the bill has been estimated at £247m by the government, a cost that some smaller ISPs fear will put them out of business if they are not given help in footing the bill.
The government wants police and other security agencies to have the power to tap this database in order to investigate terrorism and other serious crimes. But rather than watering down police powers to tap these web browsing databases, home secretary Theresa May has proposed expanding them to enable police to access all browsing records in specific crime investigations. The original bill had specified only illegal websites and communications services.
These powers will not be subject to the 'double-lock' ministerial authorisation outlined in the original bill. May also rejected Parliamentary committees' recommendations not to extend state internet surveillance powers for the "economic well-being" of the UK.
May proposes to expand police computer hacking powers, allowing the National Crime Agency and major forces such as the Metropolitan Police to hack even in cases where it is claimed there is potential "damage to somebody's mental health".
There are also passages authorising "property interference" in relation to these hacking powers, suggesting that the security services want the power to break in to people's homes to plant malware on their computers. Stronger passwords and your own surveillance cameras may be in order.
The bill also proposes making it lawful for the security services to engage in bulk interception of internet traffic, and will provide a framework in which they can legally collect this traffic, which may include personal details, such as emails, bank and medical records.
The bill will formally legalise many practices that the security services are known to have engaged in for a decade or more following the Edward Snowden disclosures.
However, privacy safeguards have been slightly tightened up in response to a trio of critical Parliamentary reports published over the past couple of months. Furthermore, the government has denied claims that it was seeking to rush the bill through Parliament, a move intended to keep shadow home secretary Andy Burnham onside, which would assure the bill's passage through Parliament.
There have also been changes made to the proposed surveillance law on encryption in a bid to address widespread technology industry concerns that it would undermine the UK's tech sector.
Not surprisingly, privacy campaigners have voiced their anger at the lack of any meaningful changes to the bill.
"The Intelligence and Security Committee called for a new chapter consolidating and strengthening privacy in the bill; the Home Office has responded by adding one word in the title of Part 1. It would be shameful to even consider this change cosmetic," said Dr Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International.
"The bill published today continues to adhere to the structure and the underlying rationale that underpinned the draft IP bill, despite the criticism and lengthy list of recommendations from three Parliamentary committees."
He was also highly critical of the bulk interception powers and equipment interference measures in the bill.
"The continued inclusion of powers for bulk interception and bulk equipment interference - hacking by any other name - leaves the right to privacy dangerously undermined and the security of our infrastructure at risk. Despite this, the Home Office stands by its claim that the bill represents 'world-leading' legislation. It is truly world-leading, for all the wrong reasons," he said.
The Open Rights Group was equally forthright in its condemnation, warning that it would make the UK one of the most spied-on countries in the world.
"On first reading, the revised bill barely pays lip service to the concerns raised by the committees that scrutinised the draft," said executive director Jim Killock.
"If passed, it would mean that the UK has one of the most draconian surveillance laws of any democracy with mass surveillance powers to monitor every citizen's browsing history."
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