The UK’s coalition government is planning to give law enforcement agencies unprecedented powers to monitor and spy on the web-browsing of British citizens. In this post we’ll be explaining what this proposed new law means, and what you can do to fight it.
The new legislation, dubbed the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP), threatens to drag the UK’s online surveillance laws down to the level of authoritarian states such as China and Iran. Under the CCDP the government agency responsible for monitoring communications (GCHQ) will be able to demand that ISPs hand over details on what websites you’re visiting and who you’re sending emails to, without any court orders or warrants. Under this law, all that stands between you and your online privacy is the idle suspicions of a civil service bureaucrat, who doesn’t have to go through a single independent check in order to look at your web-browsing history.
What’s more the UK government wants all this internet snooping to take place “in real time”, which means that GCHQ will install its own physical monitoring equipment on networks, so it can access your data and watch what you are doing within minutes of suspicions being aroused.
Collusion of interests
If this sounds slightly familiar, then its for a good reason. Most of these surveillance powers were included in recent pieces of legislation introduced by the entertainment industry in their global fight against online privacy (sorry, ‘piracy’). SOPA tried to fight for these radical powers in the USA, ACTA was the legislation that attempted to introduce it into the EU and the Digital Economies Act did the same in the UK.
However, all of these bills either hit the rocks and failed (SOPA and ACTA), or are currently fighting public discontent and legal challenges from ISPs (DEA). The existence of the CCDP (which was leaked by The Sunday Times) reveals that the UK government was in-bed with the entertainment industry all along, because it wants the same powers of surveillance that the copyright lawyers want.
However, instead of threatening the population with accusations of copyright theft, the Conservation and Liberal coalition is now scaring people with terrorists and paedophiles - and they’re not even being subtle about it. On Tuesday the Home Secretary Theresa May came out to justify the government’s plans by cynically waving around the case of convicted child killer Ian Huntley – even though the proposed legislation wouldn’t have helped prevent his crimes.
Like the online privacy assault from the entertainment industry, this latest piece of law is facing virtually no politically opposition in the UK parliament. In fact, the ruling Conservative party and Liberal Democrats, opposed similar (actually worse) surveillance legislation from the Labour government, during their 13-year reign. Now the coalition are cravenly introducing almost the same thing, knowing that Labour is hardly in a position to criticise them.
How to resist
So what can you do about it? Well firstly, the law hasn’t passed yet. But it does look like the coalition will try and include the bill in the Queen’s Speech next month, which means the law could come into effect before the end of the 2012. So the first step is to join protests and voice opposition against the CCDP. Public outrage caused Labour to scrap its surveillance bill in 2009, so protest can work.
Blogs to follow for further news on protests
Obviously, there is a strong likelihood that the government will ignore protests and pass the CCDP. In this event there are still options to protect your privacy.
Sign up to VPN
A Virtual Private Network, such as our own IVPN service, anonymises your data by routing your traffic to servers around the world, effectively masking your IP address. You can read more about IVPN’s product right here, or you can search for other VPNs online.
The Onion Router (TOR) is another way to anonymise yourself online. TOR is a free anonymisation tool used by many people in repressive states to circumvent nationwide firewalls and works in a similar way to VPNs. The main downside to TOR is that the service is slightly more vulnerable to spying (you don’t know who controls the servers) and won’t offer quite as good speeds as a paid VPN.
If you live in the UK email your local MP and express your disgust at this law. For more information on protecting your online privacy read our top five tips here and check back on our blog for updates. If you are organising, or know of, any protest/e-petitions that you think we should feature please drop us a line in the comments below.