In the UK, the Investigatory Powers Bill − often dubbed the "Snoopers' Charter" – is set to become law by the end of 2016. It will give police and domestic intelligence agencies enhanced surveillance and hacking powers and essentially legalise a slew of "bulk" powers already in operation.

In response to the bill's proposals, Paul Bernal, a leading UK human rights expert and IT lecturer at the University of East Anglia, told IBTimes UK there is a danger the vast powers – which include the mass collection of phone records and internet data – will be misused by a future government.

"The bill legitimises most of what would normally be called 'mass surveillance' that is already taking place," Bernal said. "The breadth of the powers allowed − from the equipment interference [hacking] to the 'internet connection records' [browsing history] − is breathtaking.

"The biggest dangers come from the possibility of political change − we're putting in powers and infrastructure that could easily be badly misused by a future government, and the rapidity of recent political change, from Brexit to the election of Trump, should alert us to the danger.

"These powers are actually better suited for monitoring and controlling political dissent than catching criminals and terrorists − they're ideal for an authoritarian clampdown should a government wish to do that. A future government might well."

The Snooper's Charter, a bill spearheaded by then-Home Secretary Theresa May, met considerable push-back from MPs as it passed through the debate stages in the House of Lords and House of Commons. It was slammed by politicians for a lack of clarity, with some voicing strong privacy concerns.

Surveillance Camera
The Investigatory Powers Bill will be passed into law by the end of 2016 iStock

"This bill is a long way from the finished article," said Paul Strasburger, a liberal democrat and vocal opponent of some of the proposal, in February. "It needs more than mere tweaking, it needs to be fundamentally rethought and rebuilt. The Home Office should stop rushing to push it through."

Highlighting the powers discussed in the IP Bill proposals – including the retention of bulk personal datasets and bulk communications – even the UK Intelligence and Security Committee said the scope of the legal changes "suffered from a lack of sufficient time and preparation."

Bernal, who was called to give oral evidence to the UK government about the implications of the bill on 7 December last year, told IBTimes UK he believed the reception to the bill from both sides of the political system was particularly shocking.

'Political cowardice'

"Labour was the difficult one," he said. "The fact that Labour did not resist, and indeed waved the bill through, is political cowardice at best. The old 'Blairites' were always likely to favour the bill − Blair had been strongly in favour of surveillance and instigated what became the current programme − but the left could and should have resisted."

Previously, as reported by The Times in March, Labour's Andy Burnham told parliament his party would be abstaining from the vote over the surveillance legislation. "Outright opposition, which some are proposing tonight, risks sinking the bill and leaving the interim laws in place," he said.

"We in the UK are still too trusting and compliant in our view of surveillance," Bernal countered. "We believe our government to be benign and cannot conceive of it misusing powers, despite so much evidence the other way.

"Much of this [spying] was probably going on already, this just makes it legal," he added. "Passing the bill makes this kind of 'mass surveillance' seem normal and acceptable. The fact that it was passed so easily adds to this. We're being 'softened up' to accept surveillance as 'normal.'"