The Investigatory Powers Bill
Updated 13th December 2016
Update: The European Court of Justice has ruled the Snoopers Charter unlawful, in response to a legal challenge originally brought about by David Davis. It has been stated that only targeted interception of traffic and location data in order to combat serious crime – including terrorism – is justified.
After 12 months of intense debate, the Investigatory Powers Bill, also known as the "snoopers charter" was given royal assent and passed into law on 29 November 2016.
Why has it been brought in?
The Home Office has said the provisions listed within the bill are needed to help protect the country's national security and give more oversight than ever before. This has generated significant public debate into with many arguing that its intrusive in nature. So much so that following the bill passing, more than 140,000 people have signed an online petition calling for it to be replaced!
What you need to know
The bill, the biggest overhaul of surveillance powers for more than a decade will extend the reach of state surveillance in the UK.
For the first time, web and phone companies will be required to store records of websites visited by every customer for 12 months for access by police, security services and other public bodies, giving them unprecedented access to data. This means that your service provider will have to keep a track of all sites you've visited, when and where from, including specific pages you've spent time on.
The provisions of the bill also give security services the power to bug and hack computers and phones without alerting the owners. Companies will be legally obliged to assist these operations and bypass encryption.
What you're required to do
The legislation includes an existing requirement for UK companies to hand over an encryption key so that scrambled messages can be read, where there is a legal reason for the police to access that message. This must be readily available to some 48 authorities including the Met police, british Transport Police, GCHQ, the MoD, the Department of Health, HM Revenue and Customs and the Home Office.
How can I protect myself?
Although there's little that can be done to protect your information, you can go to some ways to bolster your privacy. Why not try the following?
A VPN service provider serves the invaluable function of protecting your digital privacy. If your motivation includes the snoopers charter, make sure you choose one that's not UK based and doesn't keep any logs. Once you've chosen your VPN, make sure you've subscribed and logged in, so the service can run all your online data through encrypted servers positioned around the world for utmost privacy.
Using a VPN is highly recommended for people who travel extensively and therefore spend a lot of time working from public Wi-Fi hotspots, helping protect your traffic from snoopers who steal passwords.
For increased privacy you could access the internet from a 'virtual computer' loaded in your operating system and then throw it away after use. This might be the only way to avoid being tracked by browser fingerprinting.
On your smartphone
You can't make smartphone use private because you're always being tracked by your phone network, but you can limit tracking by turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you're not using it. Using a VPN for web access will also limit snooping.
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