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“In the hands of an extreme government, the IP bill is a toolkit for tyranny.”
This is not a description of surveillance powers in North Korea but of those about to become lawful in the UK. It comes from Lord Strasburger, speaking during the second reading of the Investigatory Powers Bill in the House of Lords on 27 June 2016.
The Chilcot report on the Iraq war has shown in stark detail how a few politicians can take the country into a catastrophic war, and how the law can be circumvented to produce outcomes that are hugely damaging for our society.
The IP bill allows draconian intrusion into our privacy, across every facet of our lives. The powers are available not only to domestic law enforcement and security agencies but to any government department, such as HMRC or the Food Standards Agency, and can be used for almost any purpose.
It will give the state the legal power to check your browsing history and hack every device you use including your CCTV, mobile phone, smart TV, satnav and anywhere else technology may be used.
The security services have not requested these powers and feel they could even be counterproductive in the fight against terrorism. The bill appears to be driven by party politics and the political ambitions of a handful of politicians as much as by the security needs of the country.
Read more about the IP bill
- IT businesses and staff who decline a Home Office order to hack their customers could face bankruptcy or long jail sentences.
- Britain’s biggest web companies will be forced to build a national network of massive internet surveillance centres if the IP bill is passed.
- The proposed Investigatory Powers Bill could prove damaging for innovative high-tech companies.
The BBC has been criticised for not adequately reporting on the bill, and coverage in the mainstream press has been minimal. Human rights organisation Liberty estimates that 72% of people are completely unaware of the IP bill and that 92% of those who are aware of the bill do not approve of it. There is genuine outrage from those aware of the bill about these sweeping Orwellian powers of intrusion that are about to be thrust on us.
We must ensure we meet and surpass our responsibilities to protect society from terrorism, the exploitation of children and any other universally reviled activity. But this mustn’t compromise our privacy unless it’s necessary and proportionate.
Surveillance must also operate under the rightful authority of judges and be limited to the appropriate and specific agencies involved. In its present form, the bill allows a body appointed by the prime minister to authorise warrants and audit its own work. This falls short of the full accountability that such sweeping powers demand.
With Brexit dominating the headlines, the Government has worked hard to rush the IP bill through the Commons and the Lords. It has left those MPs and peers opposed to its contents with little time to digest its contents or prepare counter-arguments.
Many had hoped that the House of Lords would temper the bill. However, after the bill’s second reading, it has progressed to committee phase and final reading on 11, 13 and 19 July 2016 at breakneck speed. It is now clear that the bill won’t meet any resistance in the upper house.
Pause in proceedings
In a bid to make sure the bill gets the attention it’s due, the Open Rights Group, a UK campaigning group that supports freedom of speech and privacy online, has called for the government to pause proceedings as it has done for the decision to expand Gatwick or Heathrow airport.
While we function in a representative democracy, the actions of our government, at a time of total political disarray, can only be described as entirely unrepresentative.
With the abuse of power uncovered in the Chilcot report fresh in our minds, we must do what we can to raise awareness of the bill and delay it until we have a functioning government and opposition.
So, what can we do?
Unfortunately, it’s now or never to stop the IP bill, so spread the word and also go to www.dontspyonus.org.uk and sign up to the petition.
The campaign is sponsored by a coalition of groups devoted to free speech and free expression, including Article 19, Liberty, and the Open Rights Group.
If you are a business owner or have ambitions to start a UK tech business and are concerned about the risk of being issued with a warrant to add surveillance capabilities to your technology, or the possibility of facing imprisonment if you talk about it, please email me in confidence.
Tirath Bansal is founder and CEO of myOrb.com