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Top 10 state surveillance, investigatory powers and activism stories of 2016

This year saw the UK introduce the Snoopers' Charter, legalising some of the most extensive government surveillance powers in the world. Computer Weekly exposed state monitoring of Parliamentary emails, and reported on activist Lauri Love's legal battle to be tried in the UK over alleged hacking in the US

Three and a half years after Edward Snowden revealed the extent, and often the illegality, of state surveillance by the US and the USA, the UK has introduced one of the most sweeping examples of surveillance legislation. The Investigatory Powers Act, which legalises suspicion-free surveillance, passed through Parliament with little scrutiny, and little effective opposition, as MPs found themselves preoccupied with Brexit.

Computer Weekly ran revelatory reports explaining how the US and the UK have developed capabilities to access intercepted emails from members of Parliament and the Lords, how MI5 took the judges of Britain’s most secret court to lunch to persuade them keep the extent of their surveillance under wraps, and how the intelligence agencies gathered personal data on the population illegally for well over a decade.

Meanwhile, Lauri Love, a 31-year-old computing student, was battling to overturn an attempt by the US to extradite him to face hacking charges. Love, who is alleged to have taken part in an online protest against the death of internet pioneer Aron Swartz, has Asperger syndrome, and is at high risk of suicide if the extradition goes ahead. Over 100 MPs are campaigning for his case to be heard in the UK.

1. Britain to pay billions for monster internet surveillance network

Britain’s biggest web companies will be forced to build a national network of massive internet surveillance centres, likely to cost billions of pounds, if MPs approve proposals the Home Office is determined to rush through Parliament after Easter.

2. MPs’ private emails are accessed by GCHQ and the NSA

GCHQ and the US National Security Agency (NSA) have access to intercepted emails sent and received by all members of the UK Parliament and peers, a Computer Weekly investigation has established.

3. Activist Lauri Love faces order to disclose encryption keys

The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) is attempting to force a political activist accused of hacking to disclose encryption keys in a case that could have ramifications for others who want to protect confidential information.

4. Intelligence agencies collected personal data unlawfully for a decade

British intelligence agencies secretly and unlawfully collected the population’s mobile phone and internet data for more than a decade, a ruling by the UK’s most secret court revealed.

5. Interview: James Bamford on surveillance, Snowden and technology companies

James Bamford has what he calls a love-hate relationship with America’s most secret intelligence agency. During more than 30 years of writing about the US National Security Agency (NSA), he has been threatened with prosecution, occasionally been praised for his work – but has mostly met with hostility.

6. Interview : Lauri Love, the student accused of hacking the US

How did a brilliant but fragile computer science student from a rural English town end up facing life imprisonment in the US? Computer Weekly speaks to Lauri Love in this in-depth interview.

7. Private data should only be kept for ‘serious crime’, says European Court

European Court of Justice lays down the limits of data retention following legal challenge by two UK MPs. Tom Watson MP continues the case – likely to have implications for the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act – while David Davis quits after assuming a post in Theresa May’s cabinet.

8. New UK law will criminalise failure to hack on demand

MPs have were given only two weeks to read 1,200 pages of documents which disclose new powers to require technology companies to install secret surveillance capabilities in software, computer equipment or networks.

9. MI5 accused of inviting judges to lunch in an attempt to compromise the UKs most secret court

MI5 took judges at the UK’s top intelligence and security court for lunch at the Secret Services HQ, in a successful attempt to encourage them not to disclose any information on the existence of databases holding highly intrusive records about the population.

10. UK’s top security judges struggle to assess privacy threats

Britain’s top security judges lack the technological understanding to assess the degree to which state surveillance might threaten citizens’ privacy, according to the judges themselves.

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