It seems that news related to online privacy and cyber security makes its way to the news bulletins and blogs almost daily, but the magnitude of the news of the Investigatory Powers Bill being given the Royal Assent surely puts it at the top of the list.
In a time when privacy activists and enthusiasts are tearing their larynxes trying to educate people of the mass surveillance the governments all over the world are imposing on their citizens, the UK has almost publicised its surveillance regime. They have not only proved the claims of activists true, but have also taken things a step further by giving the authorities almost complete access to user data.
What is the IP Bill?
The Investigatory Powers Bill was first introduced by Theresa May as a means to protect the citizens of UK against terrorist threats. It was cited that cyber routes have been much more frequently used by terrorists to communicate with one another as well as for recruiting men. The Bill, given the Royal Assent by the Queen, will come in power in early 2017, and enables some 48 authorities to request access to user data.
The user data that will be accessed by them is meta-data that needs to be retained by internet service providers for at least 12 months now so that it may be provided as evidence in a court. To break it down, it can be summarised as follows:
i. Ministers can sign warrants for the surveillance of individuals’ devices and networks
ii. Internet Service Providers will be forced to retain browsing history of customers for 12 months
iii. Agencies like GHCQ and MI5 will have complete freedom to access user data and hack into their devices.
As is obvious, the powers this bill gives to the security agencies sparked off a furious debate between the government officials and privacy activists, who have dubbed this the new Snoopers’ Charter.
Threat to Privacy
This is the most severe attack on user privacy in Western democracy.
It does not need any saying that despite the government giving it the tag of national security, what this bill basically does is invade the privacy of the citizens of UK without them being able to do anything about it. However, the severity of the threat needs to be highlighted. Here are a few pointers:
- Authorities can hack into users’ devices and networks without giving them any due notice about it.
- The government agencies will have the ability to use means like malware installation that are usually used by cyber criminals to gain access of user systems and download their files and data from it, legally.
- Although the government assures that it will only be used against people deemed up to no good, there’s nothing to stop them from hacking into anyone’s phone or computer and reading and storing everything on it.
- The data recorded will be meta-data. This is only the top-level data, meaning that it contains information like which websites the user visited or to whom he or she sent a text message. The actual action on the website or content of the messages won’t be accessible directly to the authorities, but since they have the means to legally hack into user devices, there’s nothing stopping them doing so.
As a result, this bill makes the installation of a VPN platform a must.
People’s worst fears are about to come true in the UK when this bill comes into effect in the early months of 2017. Although the government has stated that nothing will change suddenly and that it needs to extensively test quite a few of the proposals in the bill, this is the most severe attack on user privacy in Western democracy.
As a result, this bill makes the installation of a VPN platform a must if your value your online anonymity in any way at all.
The VPN will prevent ISPs from being able to log your activity making it impossible for them to pass on any information to the authorities. In addition, it will also prevent any third party from hacking into your device remotely to access the information stored there.
We would therefore recommend that you sign up to a platform that provides an app or a download for every device that you use to browse the internet. If those devices are going to be online at the same time, then you’ll need a provider who is able to offer multiple simultaneous connections.