Take Snooper’s Charter Back to Drawing Board, Urge Experts

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Rights groups, lawmakers and industry experts are up in arms after the UK government presented a new version of its controversial Snooper’s Charter which appeared to grant police even greater surveillance and hacking powers, less than a month after three committees urged major changes.

In a letter published in The Telegraph yesterday, over 100 distinguished names including advisers to those committees argued that the government’s clear intention to get the Investigatory Powers Bill passed this year is not in the UK’s best interests.

“All three parliamentary reports on the draft Investigatory Powers Bill concluded that it does not meet the requirements of clarity, consistency and coherence. They call for new drafting, further safeguards, further evidence and further consultation,” the letter argued.

“Surveillance is a global concern, and this new law, if done right, could lead the world. It will affect security, freedom and commerce. We must give the bill the time it needs – not rush it through Parliament. We urge the government to think again.”

The bill presented to parliament yesterday gives extra powers to police, allowing them to access all web browsing records – which will have to be stored by ISPs for up to a year – during investigations rather than the illegal sites and services mentioned in the previous version.

Also, it will allow the police as well as intelligence agencies to remotely hack individuals in cases involving “threat to life” or missing persons.

The Home Office claimed this last amendment wasn’t actually a change and that it was merely omitted by accident in the first draft and reflects current police practice.

On the plus side, there were extra protections for journalists and lawyers, and a slight climb down over encryption, with the government claiming it would only force companies to remove encryption where they have applied it themselves and where it’s “practical” to do so.

It remains to be seen how that is worked out.

Unsurprisingly the amendments were slammed by rights group Liberty.

“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,” argued director, Shami Chakrabarti.

"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."

Mike Weston, CEO of data science consultancy, Profusion, labelled the new draft “very concerning.”

“Make no mistake, this is a bad Bill. It erodes the privacy of individuals online, it puts a huge burden on internet service providers and tech companies to snoop on their own customers, and it is questionable whether it will do anything to improve state security,” he argued.

“The government should admit that it has got it wrong, bin the Bill and start again.”

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