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Three-quarters of Britons are unaware of the existence of the far-reaching Investigatory Powers (IP) Bill, also known as the Snoopers’ Charter, while a third don’t care about it.
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However, nearly half proclaim themselves to be against the idea of giving law enforcement agencies access to encrypted communications and devices.
These are some of the main findings of a study on the awareness of, and attitudes towards, the controversial bill, conducted by broadband and internet comparison website Broadband Genie. The site suggested unengaged and uninformed people were in danger of sleepwalking into a Big Brother-style surveillance state.
Of particular concern was that although a third expressed a lack of interest in the bill, 45% of the total said they were against one of the key tenets of the new law, namely giving law enforcement bodies the right to access encrypted communications and devices, said Broadband Genie head of strategy, Rob Hilborn.
IP Bill rushed through Parliament
“The government has been pushing this bill through at lightning pace, and as a result the general public is largely unaware of what’s going on with legislation that will impact us all,” said Hilborn.
“Groups both opposing and supporting the bill need to raise awareness and educate the public. Unfortunately the government seems to be on a mission to push this through as quickly as possible,” he added.
Open Rights Group (ORG) executive director Jim Killock, said: “This is a huge 300-page bill, with far-reaching implications for UK citizens and business.”
“It was clear that the draft bill needed to be completely rewritten, but the government pushed ahead with the publication of the revised bill, despite calls from politicians, lawyers, academics, journalists and activists for more scrutiny time,” he added.
“The bill is also being pushed through at a time when most parliamentarians are pre-occupied by the European Union referendum, and this will affect the level of scrutiny,” Killock added.
“ORG and the Don’t Spy on Us coalition are trying to make the public aware of the impact that the bill will have,” said Killock, as it will mean “the UK has one of the most extreme surveillance laws of any democracy.”
Even if individuals are unperturbed by this breach of their privacy, he added, they should be made aware of the bill’s impact on business, journalists, lawyers and activists, he added.
The survey also found a huge lack of awareness among young people, who tend to be heavier internet users. Just 13% of 18 to 24-year-olds were aware of it, and 19% of 25 to 34-year-olds, rising to 35% of 65 to 74-year-olds.
Can advanced surveillance really protect against terrorism?
It also uncovered a broadly equal split between those who believed the UK was at higher risk of terrorist attack if the IP Bill was not implemented, 51%, versus 49% who thought the opposite.
Protection against terrorist attacks has been a key element of how the government has set about selling the bill to the general public.
Indeed, a previous Broadband Genie survey had suggested that this message was getting through. In January 2016, it claimed that public opinion was starting to favour the introduction of the IP Bill in the wake of the November 2015 Paris attacks.
Killock said he has yet to see any evidence that the IP Bill was an effective way to combat terrorism, noting that both the Paris attackers and the Brussels airport and metro bombers, as well as the killers of fusilier Lee Rigby, were all well-known to the authorities, when no such advanced surveillance capabilities were available.
National surveillance an expensive proposition
Hilborn added that it was still unclear who would shoulder the expense of implementing, maintaining and securing the overarching surveillance infrastructure, which could run into billions of pounds.
In November 2015, Members of Parliament (MPs) sitting on the government’s Science and Technology Select Committee heard internet service providers (ISPs) may be forced to raise their prices to cover the costs of implementing the bill, particularly the cost of collecting and storing internet connection records (ICR).
“The taxpayer is going to pay in the end, one way or the other. The citizens of this country will end up paying to be spied on,” said Matthew Hare, CEO of ISP Gigaclear.
A similar widespread surveillance scheme, set to be implemented in Denmark, was dropped in March 2016 after the government balked at the DKK1bn (£106m) cost of a session-logging system.
Read more about surveillance and encryption
- MPs have been given only two weeks to read 1,200 pages of documents which disclose new powers to require technology companies to install secret surveillance capabilities.
- A report from US district attorney Cyrus Vance claims the encryption of data on mobile operating systems has had severe consequences for public safety.
- Australia has introduced a communications data retention law along the same lines proposed for UK legislation, despite opposition from citizens.