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Staff at social media companies could be punished in the UK with jail terms of up to two years for alerting users about state monitoring. The government's draft Investigatory Powers Bill, also known as Snooper's Charter, will make it a criminal offence to make unauthorised disclosure of any ongoing operations by the police or other governmental security agency.
The bill, introduced in Parliament by Home Secretary Theresa May in November 2015, obligates technology and telecommunication companies to hand over user data to security services. This will provide police, GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 unrestricted access to citizens' online activity.
A published version of the bill has an excerpt which reportedly explains that these provisions have been set up to ensure that criminal elements are not "tipped off" about their data being monitored. Such a provision is necessary to ensure that suspects are not made aware of the fact that they are under suspicion and are possibly being investigated, the explanatory note claims.
The measure is being introduced because some ministers believe that some technology firms are less than cooperative when working in collaboration the government. Commenting on this issue, QC David Anderson, the independent reviewer of terrorism laws in the UK, is believed to have cautioned that some technology firms are wont to "protect customers' privacy rather than co-operate with governments".
Technology giants have expressed concern over the restrictive and prohibitive aspects of the bill. Last month, Apple cautioned that such a move could jeopardise the privacy and security of millions of users. The company's CEO Tim Cook reportedly warned that providing a back door to user data for governments could also invite malicious parties to hack into user accounts and collect sensitive information.
Antony Walker, the deputy chief executive of techUK, a firm that represents the interests of communications and social media companies, said: "By preventing companies from notifying consumers about requests for access to data the Investigatory Powers Bill risks being out of step with the direction of international law. This will make cooperation between jurisdictions more difficult and could slow down the sharing of information between international agencies."