The House of Lords has passed the Investigatory Powers Bill, after nearly a year of facing steady criticisms from privacy advocates and tech experts. The bill, dubbed 'Snooper's Charter', was first introduced by the current prime minister and then home secretary Theresa May in 2015.
The bill, passed by both the House of Lords and the House of Commons, is slated to become a law soon and would effectively provide the British government with sweeping spying and hacking powers. Throughout the year, tech giants such as Apple and Twitter, as well as privacy advocates have pushed back against legalising the Snooper's Charter, which grants the British government with the power to hack into devices, networks and servers.
Famed NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, took to Twitter to deem the Snooper's Charter as "the most extreme surveillance in the history of Western democracy."
The UN's privacy rapporteur, Joseph Cannataci, has said that the bill was "worse than scary", Wired reported.
The EFF has said that the bill is "a carefully crafted loophole wide enough to drive all of the existing mass surveillance practice through."
Here's how the Snooper's Charter can affect you
The bill provides the UK government and its security services with powerful mass surveillance powers. Additionally, it also provides the government with the ability to enforce tech companies to comply with orders to hack into users' devices to assist law enforcement authorities in accessing user data.
Additionally, a clause in the bill, Section 217 of the draft Code of Practice on Interception of Communications, would force tech firms into handing over advance access to any new products or services slated to be launched in the UK. This would enable UK intelligence and security agencies to intercept sensitive data, as soon as products hit the market.
Mass hacking powers
According to a draft of the bill, "a large number of devices" in foreign regions suspected of experiencing terrorism activities, can be hacked to gather data. The bill would also allow police forces to hack into devices and remotely obtain data.
The MI5, GCHQ, Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Ministry of Defence would all be granted with advanced hacking powers, however, they would have to obtain warrants granted by the secretary of state.
Snooper's Charter will also enforce communications service providers to store user meta data for 12 months. This data will also be accessible to police forces when conducting investigations. Alarmingly, police forces will also be allowed to access "bulk personal datasets" from a "majority of individuals" that have not been suspected of any wrong-doing, yet are part of the mass data collection.
Conversations of journalists, lawyers, doctors and more now accessible
Snooper's Charter provides security agencies with the ability to look into metadata of journalists, doctors, lawyers, religious ministers and even MPs. Although authorities would be restricted in knowing the actual conversations, they would still be able to find out the length of the conversation and the time and location as well.
The bill will come into effect after receiving a Royal Assent, which is likely to be granted by the end of the year. Starting in 2017, when Snooper's Charter will likely become law, the UK government will effectively have one of the most advanced and intrusive surveillance laws in the world. Privacy activists had previously warned that the bill could cost the UK over £1bn.