Snooper’s charter

A new British mass surveillance bill faces stiff opposition from technology companies and many others.

Apple, Facebook, Google and many others are highly critical of a British bill widely known as the Snooper’s Charter, which would give authorities the power to monitor citizens’ digital communications, reports the International Business Times. The bill would also force technology companies to turn over customer data on demand.

For Canadians, this British initiative has a strong flavour of déjà vu.

The bill, officially called the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, was first published by Home Secretary Theresa May following the November terrorist attacks in Paris. May said that many powers outlined in the bill were already used by the Government Communications Headquarters; the bill was simply making them official.

Under the bill, police and security services would be allowed to effect “equipment interference” (which the IBTimes translates as “hack”) into citizens’ communications. Telecommunications providers (phone companies, Internet service providers, Facebook, etc.) would be expected to provide access to their users’ encrypted data. Providers would also be required to store records of websites visited by clients for 12 months, and these would be accessible to police, security services and public bodies. Final authority and judicial oversight would rest in the hands of a single commissioner.

The bill is facing much opposition, notably from three parliamentary committees, and even from the United Nation’s special rapporteur on privacy, who asked May to “desist from setting a bad example to other states.” A group of US technology giants, including Facebook, Google, Twitter and Yahoo, commented: “The actions the UK government takes here could have far-reaching implications — for our customers, for your own citizens, and for the future of the global technology industry.”