The Investigatory Powers Bill has been passed by the House of Lords and awaits Royal Assent.
The so-called Snoopers’ Charter allows the state to use electronic snooping tactics to deal with crime and terrorism, including the widespread gathering of data.
Internet and phone companies will have to store comprehensive records of users’ activity for 12 months and allow law enforcement agencies to access these on demand.
Police and others will also be allowed to bug computers and phones with the Home Secretary’s approval.
Requests to view call data will be made in private to telecoms providers; will require the approval of a new “judicial commissioner” and will be subject to an “overriding public interest” test.
The bill received a mixed response to amendments meant to allay concerns about legal professional privilege.
Mark Leiser, a teaching associate and PhD candidate in law at Strathclyde University told Scottish Legal News: “The UK has joined Russia, China and a cornucipia of other authoritarian states in legalising bulk surveillance.
“While UK citizens may have a right to privacy, the passing of the IPB in the Lords ensures that the spying activities of GCHQ and the intelligence community have become acceptable and legalised.
“This strategy flies in the face of numerous advisors and former spooks who have openly claimed that data retention of citizens is not the right way to combat terrorism.
“The intelligence community should be investing more in good old-fashioned spy networks. After all finding a needle in a haystack does not become any easier by making the haystack infinitely larger.”
Michael Clancy, director of law reform at the Law Society of Scotland, told SLN earlier this month that the bill had been “improved” as far as legal professional privilege is concerned.
He said: “[The] UK government brought forward a number of measures which have addressed some of our concerns.
“However we believe that the bill still has imperfections and that proper post-legislative scrutiny should be carried out within the next three years to find out if it is functioning properly and assess on how many occasions a lawyer’s obligation of confidentiality to their client has been compromised by the surveillance methods permitted; how the system of judicial commissioners granting or approving warrants is working; and what improvements can be made to this law.”