How the UK’s Snooper’s Charter Could Affect the Whole World

Philip Bates 30-11-2016

The Investigatory Powers Bill, better known as the “Snooper’s Charter”, is here. Right now, it’s the pinnacle of mass state surveillance How Britain's "Snoopers' Charter" Might Affect You British Prime Minister David Cameron intends to resurrect the "Snooper's Charter", a privacy-breaching set of new measures to enable enhanced monitoring of communications by the security services. Can it be stopped? Read More with its most notable feature forcing telecommunications companies to keep all data about its customers for at least 12 months.


And having to hand them over to public bodies without the latter’s justification.

While “bigger” news like Brexit and Donald Trump dominated headlines, the Investigatory Powers Bill has been rushed through under a veil of scare-mongering. Even the atrocities of the Paris terror attacks last year were used as a reason to force it through parliament.

You might think it only affects the UK, but you’d be wrong. This affects everyone across the whole world.

Who Can Look at Your Data?

Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and his Lib Dem party blocked it during the 2012–2013 legislative session, and objections abound. But since the Conservatives won last year’s general election Freedom & Mass Surveillance: UK Political Parties' Online Privacy Pledges When one policy can change a vote, what can a political party pledge to win the support of voters with concerns over online privacy and freedom? Read More and its core advocate, Theresa May, became Prime Minister, it comes as no surprise that the Bill is now law, pending inevitable Royal Assent.


Convinced? If used to fight terrorism, there’s nothing wrong with the secret intelligence services seeing which websites you frequent. It is, however, shocking to see the list of agencies who can now read a year’s worth of your browsing history, calls, and messages, courtesy of blogger, Chris Yiu:

  • Security Service
  • Secret Intelligence Service
  • GCHQ
  • Ministry of Defence
  • Metropolitan police force
  • City of London police force
  • Police forces maintained under section 2 of the Police Act 1996
  • Police Service of Scotland
  • British Transport Police
  • Ministry of Defence Police
  • Royal Navy Police
  • Police Service of Northern Ireland
  • Royal Military Police
  • Royal Air Force Police
  • Department of Health
  • Home Office
  • Ministry of Justice
  • National Crime Agency

Now, at this stage, you might think “That’s fair enough.” These are all recognized security agencies, after all. But that’s not the full list. Gambling, tax revenue, even food agencies have all been granted warrant-free access to Britain’s browser history:

  • 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
  • Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Regional Business Services Organisation
  • 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
  • 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

Why Is This Worrying?

This is an attack on privacy. EU courts deemed it unlawful on Humanitarian grounds. Human rights expert Paul Bernal has warned:

The biggest dangers come from the possibility of political change — we’re putting in powers and infrastructure that could easily be badly misused by a future government… These powers are actually better suited for monitoring and controlling political dissent than catching criminals and terrorists — they’re ideal for an authoritarian clampdown should a government wish to do that. A future government might well.

Suddenly, the world of George Orwell’s 1984 is closer than ever.


Police and intelligence services like GCHQ are a given… but why would the Food Standards Agency, Department of Health, and ambulance services across the UK need to know which sites you’ve visited, and who you’ve spoken to, either on the phone or through messaging apps?

Mass surveillance records are also a big target for hackers. Imagine how tempting it is for cybercriminals sending malware Viruses, Spyware, Malware, etc. Explained: Understanding Online Threats When you start to think about all the things that could go wrong when browsing the Internet, the web starts to look like a pretty scary place. Read More (knowing which sites you go on will increase their hit rates when sending fake emails and falsified pages), or intent on sextortion Sextortion Has Evolved And It's Scarier Than Ever Sextortion is an abhorrent, prevalent blackmailing technique targeting young and old, and is now even more intimidating thanks to social networks like Facebook. What can you do to protect yourself from these seedy cybercriminals? Read More . Even Personally-Identifiable Information (PII) is worth something on the Dark Web Here's How Much Your Identity Could Be Worth on the Dark Web It's uncomfortable to think of yourself as a commodity, but all of your personal details, from name and address to bank account details, are worth something to online criminals. How much are you worth? Read More . Similarly, hackers target medical institutions 5 Reasons Why Medical Identity Theft is Increasing Scammers want your personal details and bank account information – but did you know that your medical records are also of interest to them? Find out what you can do about it. Read More due to the wealth of valuable data they hold.

Further breaches in your privacy may come from attacks on your internet Service Provider (ISP), cell phone network provider, servers of governmental bodies, and the new database Request Filter.

How Could This Affect “The Five Eyes”?

Effectively formed following the Second World War, the so-called “Five Eyes” is an alliance of intelligence services in the US, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. A major extension of UK surveillance law would likely affect its allies.


A court ruled that the National Security Agency (NSA)’s collection of phone records was illegal What Does the NSA Court Ruling Mean for You and The Future of Surveillance? A US appeals court has ruled that bulk collection of phone record metadata by the National Security Agency (NSA) is illegal. But what does this mean for your privacy? Are you still being watched? Read More . A recent study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication concluded that, despite this, Americans are resigned to giving up their privacy Why Have Americans Given Up On Privacy? A recent study by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication concluded Americans are resigned to giving up data. Why is this, and does it affect more than just Americans? Read More . The NSA already wants “front door” access Tomorrow's Surveillance: Four Technologies The NSA Will Use to Spy on You - Soon Surveillance is always on the cutting edge of technology. Here are four technologies that will be used to violate your privacy over the next few years. Read More to encrypted information.

After the 2013 revelations by whistleblower What Is PRISM? Everything You Need to Know The National Security Agency in the US has access to whatever data you're storing with US service providers like Google Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook. They're also likely monitoring most of the traffic flowing across the... Read More , Edward Snowden, Section 215 of 2015’s USA Freedom Act enforced limitations on the NSA’s retention of phone records, but telecommunication firms must still collect metadata (including when and where messages are sent, and to whom) of their customers. Government agencies still have access to this, but on a case-by-case basis. This is regulated by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), so it would be up to the NSA to prove that such information is required for counter-terrorism.

Outdoor Surveillance Cameras
Image Credit: Jonathan McIntosh via Flickr


Similarly, Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE) and Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) have got into hot water for retaining phone records — and sharing them with foreign surveillance agencies. Such unwarranted collection of metadata is a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Nonetheless, the UK’s Snooper’s Charter was an extension of the expired Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill (DRIP) Privacy In The UK: The Data Retention And Investigation Powers Bill Read More . It wouldn’t be out of the question for legislation in the USA and Canada to be amended to include activities they’re already undertaking.

That’s essentially what’s happened in Australia. Mandatory retention laws were introduced last year: these force telecommunication companies and ISPs into keeping metadata for up to two years, obtainable by official bodies (and occasional private agencies) without a warrant, and Snowden adds:

It’s called pre-criminal investigation, which means they are watching everyone all the time. They can search through that information not just in Australia but also share with overseas governments such as the US and UK. And it happens without oversight.

Meanwhile, Privacy International has raised concerns about the seeming-ambiguity of New Zealand’s Telecommunications Interception Capability and Security Act 2013 (TICSA), which informs firms to collect “call associated data.” The actual definition, however, is arguably too loose, but seems to allow the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) to intercept metadata.

How Could This Affect the Wider World?

Needless to say, this could start a chain reaction. Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, says this is a worldwide issue:

This discussion is a global one, it’s a big one, it’s something that people are very engaged with, they think it’s very important, and they’re right, because it is very important for democracy, and it’s very important for business.

The Indian Government is already pushing for a data retention act similar to the UK’s, reportedly redrafting Section 67C of the Information Technology Act, 2000, so ISPs, email providers, and social media apps must retain data. We’re yet to determine what information this entails, but it’s likely metadata.

great firewall of china facebook

Going one step further, Russia’s Yarovaya Law passed earlier this year, as an anti-terrorism measure, requiring telecommunication companies to store voice messages for up to six months, alongside metadata. It also limits evangelism, and lengthens the jail sentences to up to 10 years for anyone found guilty of extremism online or protesting without permission.

More than 622,000 citizens signed a petition that argues this so-called Big Brother Law contradicts the Constitution of Russia.

China is well-known for its Golden Shield Project, which blocks many websites How To Quickly Check If Your Site Is Visible Behind The Great Firewall Of China The Great Firewall of China, officially known as the Golden Shield project, uses a variety of methods to block foreign websites that the Chinese government doesn’t like. The Chinese government doesn’t publish a list of... Read More including Facebook and Twitter. The government there has introduced its own Snooper’s Charter, which allows them to decrypt messages held by ISPs, once more supposedly to combat terrorism.

If we consider the EU, things get trickier. Their Data Retention Directive was found to be in violation of our fundamental rights by the European Union Court of Justice. Fortune’s David Meyer summed up the situation:

Most EU countries were left with national data retention laws that were based on an EU law that no longer existed. Citizens challenged those laws and, in many countries such as Belgium and Austria, got them struck down too.

This led to individual countries introducing their own retention laws — hence the UK’s Investigatory Powers Bill.

Make no mistake: this is simply the beginning for data retention legislation across the world.

What Can You Do?

If you’re concerned about your privacy, you’ve got to do everything you can to protect those rights. This includes writing to your local senator or MP, participating in petitions, and backing up the groups fighting on your behalf Who Is Fighting On Your Behalf Against The NSA And For Privacy? There are several Internet activism groups who are fighting on your behalf for privacy. They are doing their best to educate netizens as well. Here are just a few of them that are incredibly active. Read More .

The answer to evading mass surveillance might be the implementation of a Virtual Private Network What Is The Definition Of A Virtual Private Network Virtual private networks are more important now than ever before. But do you know what they are? Here's what you need to know. Read More (VPN), a type of encryption How Does Encryption Work, and Is It Really Safe? Read More that’s supposed to offer a level on online anonymity. That’s not always the case 5 Ways Your VPN Is Not as Private as You Think It Is Your VPN is not as secure or private as you think it is. We explain why you and your browsing history might not be anonymous after all. Read More , of course, but they do generally hide data from ISPs and so by extension the government. Here’s a list of the best VPN services The Best VPN Services We've compiled a list of what we consider to be the best Virtual Private Network (VPN) service providers, grouped by premium, free, and torrent-friendly. Read More right now. If you use WhatsApp WhatsApp Encryption: It's Now the Most Secure Instant Messenger (Or is it?) Since being acquired by Facebook, WhatsApp has been forced to clean up its approach to security and privacy, which resulted in the news last year that it has introduced new encryption measures. Read More or Facebook Messenger, you already use encryption regularly.

But if you’re of particular interest to the intelligence services, VPNs certainly won’t hold them back from finding out information about you, for example, through a Domain Name System (DNS) leak How DNS Leaks Can Destroy Anonymity When Using a VPN, And How to Stop Them When you're trying to stay anonymous online, a VPN is the simplest solution, by masking your IP address, service provider, and location. But a DNS leak can totally undermine the purpose of a VPN... Read More .

The NSA will be monitoring you Your Smart Home Works for the NSA, and You're Being Watched It seems that the worst fears about the Internet of Things and smart home technology are being realized. Now director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has declared that IoT devices are being used for surveillance. Read More  simply because you’re reading this. In fact, the NSA target anyone who has taken an interest in their own privacy Your Interest in Privacy Will Ensure You're Targeted by the NSA Yes, that's right. If you care about privacy, you may be added to a list. Read More .

Scary, eh?

Are you concerned about governmental invasions of privacy? Or should we instead focus on fighting hackers?

Image Credits: CREATISTA/Shutterstock

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  1. Howard A Pearce
    December 1, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    A clear violation of freedom of association for the state to dictate how others run their associations - personal or economic(business).

    In addition a violation of freedom of communication to dictate how people communicatesuch as what communciation data must be saved or not - not to mention forcing companies to go back on promises they might have made to customers about their privacy.

    A very fascist law with a slippery slope into such laws for speech, press, and other forms of communication

    • Philip Bates
      January 31, 2017 at 3:23 pm

      I couldn't agree more. It stinks. The EU called it inhumane, a violation of our rights, but the UK government seems to have tweaked it (not enough, regardless) and pushed it through anyway. The annoying thing is, it's been done under the radar. EVERYONE should be angry about this, but few really know much about it or realise the implications.