Something embarassing in your web history? British police will be able to see it under new powers granted by the draft Investigatory Powers Act, dubbed the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ by critics.
According to The Daily Telegraph, the bill would make it a legal requirement for web and telecoms companies to make the browsing history of their customers available to the police and security services for up to 12 months.
It would also grant police the power to seize details of website visits and web searches made by targets of their investigations, although this power would have judicial oversight.
The powers are to be introduced in the Investigatory Powers Bill, which Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May will introduce to Parliament on Wednesday.
According to The Times, the bill will also grant security agencies the ability to hack into peoples’ smartphones and computers. This would include the power to take over a smartphone remotely, accessing all documents, data, and visual material stored within. They would also be allowed to install monitoring software on devices, according to reports.
May has long championed the cause of granting more surveillance powers to the police and security services. She previously attemped to bring in similar powers in the 2010-15 Parliament, but her efforts were blocked by the Liberal Democrats, then part of a governing coalition with the Conservative party. The Conservatives obtained a majority in the recent UK elections and now govern alone.
However, Theresa May still faces opposition from within her own party, the so-called “Runnymede Tories,” a name given to Conservative MPs who have concerns about the erosion of civil liberties. David Davis MP, formerly the Shadow Home Secretary and a Conservative leadership candidate, is widely acknowledged as their most vocal member.
Davis previously told The Times that there is “no proven need” for web and telecoms companies to retain data for as long as 12 months.
May has said that in the face of threats like terrorism, online crime, and state espionage, the UK had a “duty” to “ensure that the agencies whose job it is to keep us safe have the powers they need to do the job.”
May recently caused controversy through her selection of Ann Taylor, a former defence minister under Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, to chair a committee scrutinising the new legislation. Taylor has a reputation for defending the government on its expansion of surveillance powers and recently told fellow members of the House of Lords, “Those of us who have had direct experience of the benefits of this kind of information will very much support what the government is doing.”
Davis said the selection of Taylor was “untenable” and warned that she would “not fill people with confidence, if they are concerned about the impartiality of this committee.”
The debate on the snooper’s charter comes at a time when governments are increasing their oversight of the internet on both sides of the Atlantic. The U.S. senate recently passed the controversial Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), which according to critics constitutes a “direct pipeline” between users’ private data and U.S. security services. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden called the passage of CISA a “vote against the internet.”
The UK government is also being advised to forge more international agreements on data sharing. A top-secret report recently leaked in The Guardian advised the British Prime Minister to seek an international treaty with the U.S to guarantee cooperation from U.S web firms on the sharing of users’ personal data.
Disclosure: Allum Bokhari formerly volunteered for the Liberal Democrat party and worked as an intern for a Liberal Democrat MP.