Current Status in the UK
You may or may not have heard about The Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 (nicknamed the Snooper's Charter), an Act of the Parliament of the UK that passed on November 29, 2016 on its third attempt. While you can read about the specifics of the Act yourself, it essentially “introduced new powers, and restated existing ones, for UK intelligence agencies and law enforcement to carry out targeted interception of communication, bulk collection of communications data, and bulk interception of communications” for purposes of ultimately seeking to protect the public and bringing offenders to justice.
Though the Act was passed in November of 2016, the European Court of Justice, the highest court in the European Union in matters of European Union law, declared on December 21, 2016 that general surveillance on a mass scale is unlawful. While little is known at this stage as to how this will affect the Investigatory Powers Bill, it is certainly a blow to its proponents and fuel for campaigners who seek to change key parts of the Act.
The bottom line is that much of the Act is controversial. Some of it, particularly in the areas of bulk powers and data retention, is likely to be the subject of ongoing legal challenge. Paul Bernal, author of How the UK Passed the Most Invasive Surveillance Law in Democratic History for The Conversation, writes: “Legal challenges to the Act at the European courts of justice and human rights are certain to happen and quite likely to succeed. The courts have a strong recent track record of finding this level of intrusion incompatible with fundamental rights. Although, in the current anti-European climate, it is equally likely that the courts will be largely ignored by the UK government.”
Why American Should Care
The Investigatory Powers Act has been described as “world-leading legislation” that will provide some sort of inspiration or justification for other countries to enact their own sprawling surveillance laws. Indeed, with the impending inauguration of President-elect Trump on January 20th, the stage is set for an overhaul of policies and new laws in regard to national security, foreign affairs and terrorism, national defense, and cybersecurity. Google search the issue and you will most likely find what I did—that the general consensus is that the FBI, NSA, and CIA are likely to gain expanded surveillance powers under President-elect Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress.
What You Can Do About It
Take time to educate yourself and read opinions from both proponents and opponents, and stay up to date on what’s happening in the UK, around the world, and at home. Some parts of the Act, the internet connection records in particular, will be both difficult and extremely costly to implement, and may take years. In the meantime, you can bet that technologically savvy people will find ways to proactively protect their privacy. On the topic of data protection, Jack Schofield, a computer editor for The Guardian writes, “I think that VPNs are–or soon will be–normal enough not to attract undue attention. There are already plenty of reasons for using a VPN, to protect yourself in a world of hostile Wi-Fi hotspots (hence HotSpot Shield, Hide My Ass, etc.) and other online threats. That’s why many large businesses use VPNs. The fact that they may also shield you from some state snooping is just a bonus.”
Interested in knowing more? Read the informative sources for this post below.