Are the UK’s surveillance powers a step too far?
Ever since the Edward Snowden revelations of 2013, the appropriate balance between civilians right to privacy and Governments surveillance programs have been widely debated. However following the introduction of last years “Investigatory Powers (IP) Act” – which forces phone and internet companies to store and provide police, security services and official agencies with access to the web browsing histories of all UK citizens – there is growing concern that the Government reach has been over extended.
In addition to web browsing histories, the IP act gives surveillance organisations permission to access, control and alter personal electronic devices such as computers and phones as well as read text messages and listen in on phone calls regardless of whether their owners are suspects in an investigation or not.
In a highly publicised press release, Jim Killock executive director of the Open Right Group described the so-called “snooper charter” as “extreme.”
“It is one of the most extreme surveillance laws ever passed in a democracy. The IP Act will have an impact that goes beyond the UK’s shores. It is likely that other countries, including authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records, will use this law to justify their own intrusive surveillance powers.”
The act also gives the Police and other organisations the ability to access databases held by public or private sector institutions. According to the human rights campaign group Liberty; these databases could potentially contain the religion, sexuality, political leanings and health records of the entire UK population. They believe this information could be misused and result in discrimination and abuse.
Nonetheless, the British Government have hailed the IP act as an important tool in the fight against terrorism.
In a press statement, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: “This Government is clear that, at a time of heightened security threat, it is essential our law enforcement, security and intelligence services have the powers they need to keep people safe.”
However, history has shown surveillance is not always limited to criminal suspects. Back in 2009, an investigation by the Guardian newspaper found that police were targeting political activists and storing their photographs and other information in databases. Campaigners across a range of issues including those on the “periphery” of demonstrations were included on the police databases, regardless of whether they had been convicted, arrested or even suspected of committing a crime.
Despite Europe’s highest court, the European court of Justice ruling that the “General and indiscriminate retention” of electronic communications by government was illegal last December – the investigatory powers act remains in effect.
Human rights campaign group Liberty have launched a crowdfunded legal initiative to challenge what they believe is an intrusive and excessive law.
To find out more visit https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/