The Investigatory Powers Act, a bill that was just passed in the United Kingdom, is stirring controversy with its unprecedented outreach into the internet privacy of citizens. This law grants the ability for any authority to view one’s private web browsing history.
A provision of the bill forces companies to record the internet activity of users for one year and, if requested, make this information accessible to authorities. This information is comprised of a list of visited websites and apps or messaging services used. The caveat, however, is that authorities will not be able to know the individual pages each internet user has visited.
Those in support of the bill believe that it is an incredibly important addition to ensure that the United Kingdom is kept secure. Prime Minister Theresa May believes that this law will help maintain national security and ensure public safety.
The bill has been passed with the hope that it will help discover threats and apprehend terrorists. On one hand, the newly passed law grants police and intelligence agencies a much larger pool of people to gather data from, which may help them identify and apprehend terrorists before they can commit an attack. Additionally, by legalizing acts of espionage, these agencies can operate more freely, without a warrant and without fear of being caught or punished.
Critics of the bill argue that it may bring about a groundbreaking, unparalleled intrusion into the privacy of millions of citizens.
According to the bill’s provisions, there is no judicial oversight over whose data is being collected, which means that police officers have access to any citizen’s web history at all times. To access the web history, a police officer must receive the approval of a specially trained supervising officer. Without judicial oversight, police could easily start targeting particular groups disproportionally and out of bias.
Telecommunications companies may not be able to secure their customers’ data from malicious parties and hackers. Only earlier this year, Yahoo announced that it suffered from a massive data breach in 2014, resulting in the theft of 500 million user accounts, which the company blames on a “state-sponsored actor.”
The Investigatory Powers Act poses a great boon to the efforts of the U.K. government and intelligence agencies that want to keep their citizens safe. However, it also carries a great amount of risk. The personal privacy of millions of U.K. citizens is at stake.
The bill has set a dangerous new precedent to collect everyone’s data first and find the criminals later. Only time will tell whether the government and related agencies will abuse this new power.