04:31 GMT09 March 2021
Listen Live
    Get short URL
    0 92

    Two-and-a-half years after former CIA contractor Edward Snowden exposed the extent of mass surveillance by the US and UK intelligence services, sparking a global backlash over privacy and human rights, the UK has become the latest to expand snooping powers.

    The UK has outlined its draft Investigatory Powers Bill — known as the Snoopers' Charter — which will demand that internet companies maintain records of all UK citizens' internet activity for a year, building on existing legislation that allows police and the intelligence agencies access to telephone and email metadata.

    The move follows similar proposals in France and Germany and comes in the wake of a huge outcry over mass surveillance and several changes in law on both sides of the Atlantic. In essence, despite the objections from human rights group, governments — including the UK — are taking the view that the increasing use of the web means that intelligence agencies and law enforcers must have the ability to track communications metadata — retrospectively, if necessary.

    There was chaos when Edward Snowden, in 2013, revealed that the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK intelligence agency GCHQ were both gathering huge quantities of data on millions of communications exchanges, under programs known as PRISM and Tempora.

    There was an immediate outcry from human rights groups across the world when the full extent of mass surveillance was uncovered. In the US, after fierce debate, President Obama signed the Freedom Act, which still allowed for retention of data, but set some limits and allowed for greater transparency. However, critics say it was watered down from its original intention to outlaw mass surveillance.

    "This bill would make only incremental improvements, and at least one provision — the material-support provision — would represent a significant step backwards," American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer said.

    In June 2015, a joint report from the New York Times and ProPublica disclosed that the Obama administration secretly granted the National Security Agency additional authorities and expanded powers to spy on the international internet communications of Americans in order to seek out hacking attacks from abroad.

    Europe Chaos

    In Germany, the situation worsened in the two years following Snowden's revelations. There were allegations that Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone was tapped, which brought her public sympathy before it was reported her own intelligence agency had been co-operating with the NSA on surveillance of European companies and politicians, of which her own Chancellery was aware.

    Demonstrators hold a banner during a protest against the supposed surveillance by the US National Security Agency, NSA, and the German intelligence agency, BND, during a rally in front of the construction site of the new headquarters of German intelligence agency in Berlin, Germany
    © AP Photo / Gero Breloer
    Demonstrators hold a banner during a protest against the supposed surveillance by the US National Security Agency, NSA, and the German intelligence agency, BND, during a rally in front of the construction site of the new headquarters of German intelligence agency in Berlin, Germany

    Despite this, in October 2015, the German Parliament passed a new data retention law, allowing for the gathering of metadata, bit limiting the time that it could be kept.

    Snowden's expose also led to the European Court of Justice ruling that the existing EU Directive on data retention invalid because it was so sweeping in its interference with individual privacy rights.

    In the UK, the government quickly forced through the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (DRIPA) as a temporary measure to allow for the collection. An independent report into the UK's controversial mass surveillance program by its GCHQ intelligence agency and the police described the existing laws on surveillance were "undemocratic and unnecessary" and needing a complete overhaul.

    David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has concluded that:

    "The current law is fragmented, obscure, under constant challenge and variable in the protections that it affords the innocent. It is time for a clean slate."

    Meanwhile, in France, following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the French Government was swift to update its own surveillance laws — yet still allowing for data retention. 

    "The surveillance measures authorized by this law are wildly out of proportion. Large swathes of France's population could soon find themselves under surveillance on obscure grounds and without prior judicial approval," said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.

    Britain's draft Investigatory Powers Bill will allow for the intelligence services, the police — and some local authorities — to collect data on internet use, but will be tempered by a sweetener that promises they will have to seek the permission of a senior judge first.

    Two-and-a-half years after Snowden exposed the depth of mass surveillance causing a huge outcry, Big Brother is still watching you.


    UK Backs Down on Snoopers' Charter Amid Backbench Surveillance Revolt
    UK Gov't Needs Tools to Intercept Online Communications Amid Terror Threat
    Human Rights Groups Slam Privacy Policies as Failed and Lacking Reality
    UK Spies' Hacking of Personal Smartphones Needs High-Level Authorization
    telecommunications, data retention, spying, data collection, leaked documents, intelligence, human rights, NSA spying, surveillance, privacy, Edward Snowden, Theresa May, Great Britain, Europe, United Kingdom
    Community standardsDiscussion