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Draft Investigatory Powers Bill: What you need to know

Scott Carey | Nov. 12, 2015
The 299-page draft bill will be debated and consulted on before a bill is formally introduced to Parliament in the New Year.

Author and journalist Heather Brooke went one step further. Writing for The Guardian she said: "The spies have gone further than [George Orwell] could have imagined, creating in secret and without democratic authorisation the ultimate panopticon. Now they hope the British public will make it legitimate."

Edward Snowden tweeted: "By my read, #SnoopersCharter [The Draft Investigatory Powers Bill] legitimises mass surveillance. It is the most intrusive and least accountable surveillance regime in the West."

According to YouGov the UK public generally approve of surveillance, with 44 percent of respondents stating it wouldn't bother them to know that they could be spied upon and they don't think they are at this time.

Obligations on communications service providers

The use of investigatory powers relies heavily on the cooperation of so-called 'communications service providers' in the UK and overseas. The draft bill clearly outlines a legal duty on British companies to assist in hacking devices (equipment interference warrants).

A spokesperson for UK internet service provider (ISP) BT responded to this obligation by stating: "National security is a critical issue and everyone needs to play their part, including industry. Parliament has long taken the view that the national interest is best served by allowing security and law enforcement authorities access to certain types of data under certain circumstances. We believe there must be a clear legal framework around this regime, one that ensures adequate checks and balances are in place to weigh up any human rights concerns."

ISP Virgin Media said it "does not monitor or control what customers do online but complies with all lawful requests. It is for Parliament to decide where the balance lies between the needs of law enforcement and citizens' privacy.''

ISPs have been cooperating with requests like this since 1984 under obligations outlined in the Telecommunications Act, if requested by the Secretary of State in the interest of national security. This bill looks to write this power into law for the security and intelligence agencies.

The draft bill also outlines a means for ISPs, telecommunications operators and postal operators to receive appropriate contributions to cover the additional costs of these activities.

These providers can appeal requests for data, but only directly to the Secretary of State.


Encryption of communications has been a controversial topic of conversation ahead of publication of the bill. It does not seek to ban end-to-end encryption, but it will impart an obligation on communications services to help descramble communications if a warrant is issued to do so.

The issue for the security services, if this was to be codified into law, would be over the top communications services, like Apple's iMessage and the popular WhatsApp messaging service, as these third-party services apply end-to-end encryption to all messages, meaning they can't read them even if they wanted to. Emails sent using Microsoft Outlook aren't automatically encrypted in this way and Gmail requires an end-to-end encryption extension for Chrome. Blackberry offers end-to-end encryption between devices through its paid BBM Protected product. The Cisco Spark messaging service has built in end-to-end encryption.


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