Snowden – UK surveillance bill ‘the activity log of your life’

4 Nov 2015

The UK government has just showcased a raft of new surveillance laws that further strengthen the spying capabilities of one of the most advanced surveillance states in the world. Edward Snowden has been quick to criticise.

The new Investigatory Powers Bill, announced today, gives new surveillance powers to police and allows ministers to approve warrants for extensive interceptions – which a panel of judges may veto.

It also requires internet and phone companies to keep “internet connection records” for up to 12 months, which, quite bizarrely, will not require a warrant to access.

It also officially brings into law the power for the collection of bulk data, which means metadata, which the document says is “crucial” to monitor threats.

This, though, doesn’t wash with everybody. In fact, it’s rubbish, in the case of the latter rule.

As revealed by documents released by Edward Snowden, and covered in detail in The Guardian last month, the main goal of the GCHQ’s long-term battle to stop intercept evidence making it into the public domain is more to minimise challenges against these activities, “rather than any intrinsic threat to security”.

Now this bill offers the perfect cover.

Snowden, directly, has had his say. Via his new front-facing medium, Snowden tweeted that, rather than this being just communications data, it is a comprehensive record of your private activities.

“It’s the activity log of your life,” he said. This is something echoed by many in the industry.

“The Investigatory Powers Bill is a very concerning piece of legislation for both the tech industry and consumers,” said Mike Weston, CEO of data science consultancy Profusion.

“Limiting what encryption can be used is a victory for the security services, hackers and companies intent on misusing personal data.”

Encryption is crucial. While the domestic storage of data, rather than the cloud-created vacuum created by data centres all over the world, is an argument that not everybody can fully either approve of or argue, encryption is something pretty much every security expert is calling for.

I’ve just come from a number of security talks at the Web Summit where experts from all over the world concurred with this advice.

“My biggest fear,” said Todd Simpson of AVG when asked what the future might hold, “is that we continue to go down the path we’ve been going. Multiples of ‘us’ are online. Every corporation wants a profile of us. There must be a better way.”

Evgeny Chereshnev, of Kaspersky Lab, discussed state surveillance in very basic terms, with the immense power enjoyed by state-sponsored bodies backed by two particularly well-armed weapons.

“They have the will power. And they have the resources. That could be time, financial or talent resources.

“The storage of data is a strange one. Apple’s fingerprint security step a few years ago was immediately criticised, with many, like me, assuming they stored your fingerprint data .

“We know they don’t. Apple, just like Google, has your data swirling around the web. It’s not in one place, it can’t be. They don’t want it to be. Their shareholder value would plummet if it was.

“In an ideal world I want access to all my data, but it doesn’t work like that.”

The new UK rules, though, seem aimed at altering that fact.

Eye image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic