Snoopers Charter
The Investigatory Powers Bill has been branded as 'eye-wateringly intrusive'iStock

The UK Investigatory Powers Bill (IPBill), also known as the Snoopers' Charter, has been granted royal assent, officially giving police departments and intelligence agencies enhanced bulk surveillance and hacking powers.

On 29 November, the Home Office marked the passing saying that security officials will now have "the powers they need in a digital age to disrupt terrorist attacks." The UK Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, praised the bill as a piece of "world-leading legislation."

The law gives officials the legal backing to collect – in bulk – metadata about your phone calls, text messages, internet browsing habits and social media data. It forces telecommunications and internet providers to store this for 12 months.

By bringing together past pieces of legislation, it puts into law many of the surveillance programmes leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013 that were already in use by GCHQ, MI5 and MI6.

Such powers include bulk interception, bulk computer hacking and bulk collection of personal datasets from UK citizens not suspected of any crime.

The Home Office said some of the provisions in the bill still require testing and as a result do not yet have an exact time-scale for roll-out. Communications data collection, however, will be in place by 31 December when the sunset clause on the current "DRIPA" spy law expires.

While the UK government claims the IPBill has greater oversight than ever before, many of its proposals have been criticised by technology firms, human rights organisations, academics and internal parliamentary groups. The UK Intelligence Committee believes the bill lacks clarity.

Rudd said: "The Investigatory Powers Act is world-leading legislation that provides unprecedented transparency and substantial privacy protection. The government is clear that, at a time of heightened security threat, it is essential our law enforcement and security and intelligence services have the power they need to keep people safe.

"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."

Not everyone agrees. Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, told The Guardian: "It is one of the most extreme surveillance laws ever passed in a democracy. The IP act will have an impact that goes beyond the UK's shores.

"People appear to be worried about new powers that mean our web browsing activity can be collected by internet service providers and viewed by the police and a whole range of government departments. Parliament may choose to ignore calls for a debate but this could undermine public confidence in these intrusive powers."

At the time of writing, a petition calling on the UK government to "repeal the new surveillance laws" has garnered over 136,000 signatures. "This is an absolute disgrace to both privacy and freedom and needs to stop!" the description reads. It is unlikely parliament will reconsider.

Bella Sankey, policy director for Liberty, said: "It's a sad day for our democracy as this bill – with its eye-wateringly intrusive powers and flimsy safeguards – becomes law. The home secretary is right that the government has a duty to protect us, but these measures won't do the job.

"Instead they open every detail of every citizen's online life up to state eyes, drowning the authorities in data and putting innocent people's personal information at massive risk. This new law is world-leading – but only as a beacon for despots everywhere. The campaign for a surveillance law fit for the digital age continues, and must now move to the courts."


Read IBTimes UK coverage of the Snoopers' Charter: