Controversial U.K. Surveillance Law Creates Broad Outcry

The U.K.'s new Investigatory Powers Act, which was signed into British law on Tuesday, grants broad surveillance powers to the government in the name of national security. Business and advocacy groups have been quick to speak out against the measure.

New legislation that gives British law enforcement officials unprecedented access to the online records of individual users was signed into law on Tuesday by the Queen of England, but the outcry against the legislation is already picking up.

Groups spanning the journalism, civil liberties, and technology spaces have raised concerns over the Investigatory Powers Act, which would require that internet service providers in Britain maintain records of all website visits for up to a year, along with data on users’ mobile devices, including apps used and phone call metadata. While individual web pages would not be tracked, web domains, IP addresses, computer data, and time on site would be.

According to The Verge, this data would be made accessible to authorities through a centralized search engine called the “request filter” [PDF]. While the filter includes some limitations on how the data can be accessed, a court order would not be needed.

The U.K.’s Open Rights Group (ORG), a prominent privacy group, suggested the new law could lead to similar legislation around the world.

“Its impact will be felt beyond the U.K. as other countries, including authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records, will use this law to justify their own intrusive surveillance regimes,” said ORG Executive Director Jim Killock.

The National Union of Journalists objected strongly that the bill would allow seizure of journalists’ phone records. While the bill was modified to ease some concerns among journalism groups, NUJ President Tim Dawson said the changes didn’t go far enough.

“Improvements have been achieved through our collective effort, but one key central threat remains,” Dawson wrote in the Press Gazette earlier this month. “Seizing the telephone records of journalists is possible without notice or the opportunity to oppose an application. This is entirely contrary to principles enshrined elsewhere in our law.”

The Internet Service Providers’ Association, meanwhile, said it will remain vigilant about security and expects to work directly with the government on the issue.

“Now that the strategy has been published and confirms a move to a more interventionist approach, we look forward to working with members and government as to what this means for the U.K. internet industry,” ISPA Chair James Blessing said in a statement earlier this month. “ISPA believes that a partnership approach is required to most effectively address cybersecurity, with law enforcement, internet companies, individual users, ISPs, and businesses working to protect networks, follow good cyber hygiene, mitigate threats and bring offenders to justice.”

The outcry against the bill has stoked public interest. As of Tuesday evening, a petition to Parliament requesting a repeal of the bill had received more than 140,000 signatures.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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