Police hacking powers extended under new snoopers’ charter

Shami Chakrabarti

Police will be able to hack electronic devices in order to access users’ web browsing history under the revised Investigatory Powers Bill.

Technically referred to as “equipment interference”, the technique lets police and the intelligence services acquire unencrypted data from computers and smartphones.

Under the bill, put before Parliament yesterday, police would be able to use hacking powers beyond serious crime investigations. Equipment interference could be used to prevent “death or injury or damage to a person’s physical or mental health”.

Last year’s draft bill provided for police to access records relating to email, social media and illegal websites. This power has now been extended to allow them to check visits to any website as long as it is deemed “necessary and proportionate” for an investigation.

Technology companies will have to store records of every single website visited by every member of the public for a year. This will include a record of the visit but police will not be able to see the content accessed nor the extent of the visit.

The bill also enshrines in statute the intelligence services’ powers to collect data en masse. Parliamentary committees had previously raised concerns about this provision for spies but campaigners have lambasted the the Home Office for its changes, saying to even call them “cosmetic” would be “shameful”.

Dr Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International said: “The Intelligence and Security Committee called for a new chapter consolidating and strengthening privacy in the bill; the Home Office has responded by adding one word in the title of part 1.

“It would be shameful to even consider this change cosmetic. The bill published today continues to adhere to the structure and the underlying rationale that underpinned the draft IP Bill, despite the criticism and lengthy list of recommendations from three Parliamentary committees.

“The continued inclusion of powers for bulk interception and bulk equipment interference - hacking by any other name - leaves the right to privacy dangerously undermined and the security of our infrastructure at risk. Despite this, the Home Office stands by its claim that the bill represents “world-leading” legislation. It is truly world-leading, for all the wrong reasons.”

Director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti said: “Less than three weeks ago, MPs advised 123 changes to the majorly flawed draft bill. The powers were too broad, safeguards too few and crucial investigatory powers entirely missing.

“Minor Botox has not fixed this bill. Government must return to the drawing board and give this vital, complex task appropriate time. Anything else would show dangerous contempt for parliament, democracy and our country’s security.”

SLN assistant editor Kapil Summan speaks to Shami Chakrabarti about government surveillance in this year’s Annual Review 2016, out next week.

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