After the attacks in Paris, perhaps we should be welcoming the proposed ‘Surveillance powers bill’, to help prevent a similar tragedy on home soil. But do we really want to trade our freedom for our safety? A safety that wouldn’t even be guaranteed. Words: Corey Armishaw Sub Editor: Daisy Greenway
Since last Friday’s attacks in Paris, claims are flying around suggesting the attackers were communicating via encrypted messages. There have also been claims they messaged through Facebook. Both of these would be in sight of surveillance organizations in the UK if the proposed surveillance powers bill, dubbed “The Snoopers Charter” were to be passed.
In the wake of such disasters comes an immediate emotional response. This response was the reason that in the United States, the PATRIOT Act was passed with no resistance after 9/11. This act granted the NSA overwhelming powers, and led to a mass spying operation never seen before, as revealed by Edward Snowden.
The situation we find ourselves in here however, is that just weeks prior to the attacks in Paris, Home secretary Theresa May announced plans to introduce laws making it mandatory for all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to store everybody’s internet history for up to 12 months, being accessible to security agencies and the police.
If an attack had happened in London, there is no doubt this bill would have been passed before the first ambulance arrived at the scene. But Paris is still our nearest neighbour, and risk of an attack in the UK has certainly been increased because of it. In the interest of public safety, surely we should be giving our security services all the means necessary to catch those who mean to do harm?
It’s important then, to look further than just the next few weeks or months. Once the reverberations of the Paris attacks have lessened, we would be left with a Government that would be able to know what everybody is thinking. This could very well be George Orwell’s fears being realised.
The fact is, a collection of internet browsing history is not the same as a collection of phone calls that were made, as the government claims. Frankie Boyle sums it up perfectly in his article for the Guardian, saying “I suppose that we need to consider what our internet history is. The legislation seems to view it as a list of actions, but it’s not. It’s a document that shows what we’re thinking about. The government wants to know what we’ve been thinking about, and what could be more sinister than that?”
Your web records are not like "an itemised phone bill," they're like a list of every book you've ever opened. #SnoopersCharter
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) November 4, 2015
When elected, David Cameron gave this harrowing statement, “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone”. Cameron seems to be suggesting that obeying the law is no longer enough to keep you out of trouble. If you’re looking at, or saying something they don’t like, what’s to stop them from prosecuting you on the grounds of being extreme?
But, even if this all sounds ludicrous, and you have complete trust that these powers would only be used to catch wrong doers and find missing persons, this bill still poses a massive threat.
From a technical standpoint, the act of storing information about everyone, is both dangerous and impractical. Such a collection of data would be a goldmine to a hacker looking to cause some mischief. And as previous incidents suggest, (*Cough* Talk Talk *Cough*) ISPs are not the best at keeping data safe from hackers.
Furthermore, the bill would eradicate end to end encryption of messages, as used by Apple’s iMessage and Facebook’s Whatsapp. As it stands now, these messages can only be seen by the sender and the recipient. Even if Apple wanted to, they have no way of accessing these messages. Theresa May is asking for a ‘Back Door’ to be put into place for use by the Government. But as CEO of Apple, Tim Cook suggests, “Any back door, is a backdoor for everyone”.
Even if you 100% trust the government, this should worry you. Because what they’re asking for, on a technological basis, is to make your information significantly less safe and much more open to hackers and online criminals.
And if all of this wasn’t bad enough, it turns out you’re going to pay for it, literally.
Broadband bills will have to increase to pay for snooper's charter, MPs are warned https://t.co/JVZuUW3WmK
— Guardian Tech (@guardiantech) November 11, 2015
But even if you have faith in the Government, and you have faith that the data collected by ISPs and back doors to encryption can be made 100% secure from hackers, there is still the argument that people who mean to do wrong have ways to evade surveillance online.
After Paris, it might seem like the reasonable, rational and just plain safe thing to do. But allowing ourselves to be viewed by the Government on such a mass scale brings with it the complete invasion of the human right to a private life.
Surveillance has become a necessary evil, but in order for the snoopers charter to be warranted, some serious restrictions need to be implemented. Otherwise its goodbye privacy, and hello Big Brother.