The British government will be able to track the phone calls and Internet use of every citizen and hack into almost any computer thanks to a new law that critics have dubbed the “Snooper’s Charter.”
“The UK has just legalized the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy,” U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted. “It goes further than many autocracies.”
Parliament authorized mass surveillance, bulk collection of data, warrantless searches and other extreme measures when it passed the Investigatory Powers Act on Nov. 17. It now needs only the queen’s approval, or royal assent, which is a mere formality. It requires phone and Internet companies to keep records of every call made and website visited, respectively, for the previous 12 months.
The data can be legally accessed by not only police and intelligence departments but also by government agencies such as fire officials, food regulators and tax inspectors. All total, 48 government organizations will be able to see the data, all without a warrant.
“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,” Home Secretary Amber Rudd said, according to The Telegraph. “The Internet presents new opportunities for terrorists and we must ensure we have the capabilities to confront this challenge. But it is also right that these powers are subject to strict safeguards and rigorous oversight.”
The new law gives intelligence organizations GCHQ and MI5 legal power to hack into electronic devices. It also allows the government to force Internet companies to remove encryption – which could weaken the security of financial transactions.
“The UK now has a surveillance law that is more suited to a dictatorship than a democracy,” Jim Killock, the executive director of Open Rights Group, told The Guardian. “The state has unprecedented powers to monitor and analyze UK citizens’ communications regardless of whether we are suspected of any criminal activity.”
Said Renate Samson of Big Brother Watch, “The passing of the investigatory powers bill has fundamentally changed the face of surveillance in this country. None of us online are now guaranteed the right to communicate privately and, most importantly, securely.”
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