UK: Surveillance state upgraded ✅
The United Kingdom has upgraded its surveillance state. It is a matter of national pride: with an estimated 4 to 6 million CCTV cameras in operation as of 2015 and over half a million "self-authorized" information requests into the online activities of its citizens in 2011, the UK is honor-bound to lead the world in the politics of fear, evasion and mistrust.
Today the UK made another quantum leap towards dystopia by passing the Investigatory Powers Bill into law. The Independent reports (grotesquely filed under "lifestyle"):
The Investigatory Powers Act has now been given royal assent, meaning that those surveillance rules will pass into law. The bill was officially unveiled a year ago and passed through the House of Lords earlier this month, but the act of being signed off means that those powers now go into effect.
The government justifies the Bill -- of course -- by terrorism:
Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: “This Government is clear that, at a time of heightened security threat, it is essential our law enforcement, security and intelligence services have the powers they need to keep people safe.
Law enforcement, security and intelligence services... Such as the Department for Work and Pensions, the Independent Police Complaints Commissioner, the Office of Communications (aptly Orwellian designation), the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service Health and Social Care Trust, ... the list goes on.
ISPreview goes into a bit of detail on the background and challenges posed by the new law:
At present ISPs need to see a warrant before logging what customers do online (for up to 12 months) and related logs are also extremely basic. By comparison the new law introduces a system that will require ISPs to store comparatively detailed Internet Connection Records (e.g. the websites / servers you’ve visited) for all their customers and this will also be accessible without a warrant (summary).
On top of that the law also gives the security services new powers to hack computers and other electronic devices (GCHQ had previously been doing this covertly). The law may also make it difficult to offer secure / encrypted end-to-end communication services because companies will face legal pressure to hand over related comms data (example).
Let's put all of this together. As of today there are 48 governmental agencies in the UK with the authority to casually inquire into which websites you visited and what services you accessed, and when you did so, up to a year back. They don't need to justify or explain and they don't need approval. These agencies further have the authority to grant or withhold funds, to approve or disapprove of media expression, and to engage in criminal prosecution.
Between them, these organisations directly employ tens of thousands of people -- perhaps hundreds of thousands or even millions if you include contractors and consultants. While not all of these people will have direct access to your internet history it is easy to imagine how information can leak from one individual or department to another. The potential for abuse is, ... well, it's barely a "potential" at all. How hard is it to imagine an ambitious politician fingering his connections to dig up some dirt on a political opponent? Is it hard to imagine a down-on-his-luck businessman asking a family member for a favor to get a leg up on a competitor? A scorned lover? How hard would it be for foreign agents?
The assurances of the government ("strict safeguards and rigorous oversight") are worthless: digitized information is very difficult to contain because every perusal entails making a copy. These copies live on in search engines, mail servers, on backup tapes, on USB keys, ... To enforce limits on time and access requires a truly herculean effort in terms of organisation, time and money. (One wonders if this would not require a level of control that is even more totalitarian than a system of pervasive surveillance.)
But even if we allow for such a scrupulously vigilant and competent organisation then it is difficult to see how it would be able to effectively stand up against the GCHQ or the Home Office or the Ministry of Defence.
In short, the promise of "strict safeguards and rigorous oversight" by Home Secretary Amber Rudd is a complete and utter sham. The UK government is laying the foundations for a secret police. By doing so they are beckoning a police state to take up residence in the house they're building.
Perhaps that's what Rudd means. There will be "strict safeguards and rigorous oversight" -- just as soon as a police state is fully ratcheted into place.