We are as a species living more and more of our lives in the digital world. We interact with the Internet hundreds if not thousands of times a day, not only through our web browsers, but through any apps that connect to real time data sources, allow us to access our data anywhere or allow us to communicate with each other. These apps now also come on a range of devices from our computers , tablets, and smartphones to the connected fridge and smart TV. Ok lets pause here and think how much personal data have you streamed across the internet in the last month, scary isn’t it.
Ok while we are playing the imagination game, imagine this as a scenario, every time you leave your house you have to ring the police and tell them where you are , and where you planning to go. If that scenario was intrenched in the law you would get pretty offended and angry at the fact that all your privacy has been lost. This is exactly what the snoopers charter (The UK Investigatory Powers Bill) is intending to introduce to our digital lives. Ok so I know the next argument you will give is, “well I have nothing to hide”. Think about that statement for a second, its garbage right? Of course you have things to hide, I am not implying we are all secret criminals but that isn’t what privacy is about, privacy is things you simple don’t want others to know. Say you where feeling depressed, fair enough happens to everyone, say you can’t cope with it and you decided to seek professional help, again fair enough and good for you. Do you really want the government to know that you have visited a therapist regularly for the last 5 years? You maybe happy for the current government to know that, again your choice, but the data is now in the system, without safe guards anyone could eventually gain access to it. I mean I am coming up with possible scenarios here, not definitive outcomes, but they are are just as relevant and serious. So lets think throw another possible, however unlikely scenario in to the mix, the UK elects a totalitarian leader, he hates people with mental health issues thinks they are a drain on society. Now all that regime has to do is look up who visited a mental health care professional, its their data so no issues accessing it, and boom your name comes up. We can dial back a bit to a maybe scarer scenario, but actually more likely to happen, the database is breached, data is lost due to human error, cyber crimes, or just by accident. This data that basically describes where you have been and where you went at every second of your online live is now out in the open, probably on a bit torrent site or paste bin. Now anyone that knows you can access that data and see what you have been up to. I don’t think that there is a person in the country who doesn’t have data that they would rather keep private it no matter what the reason. I mean maybe you have an embarrassing medical issue, an STD, you decide before you summon up all your courage and visit the DR that you will “Google” the symptoms, oh wait that data is now stored against your name in the governments database. Now any Tom, Tom or other Tom can look it up and see. The home secretary’s argument was that its no different from an itemised phone bill, ok so though that is far from the case even that argument doesn’t hold up. For example there is an excellent phone service run in the UK, called Child Line, briefly if you don’t know what child line is, its a freephone number that children can call when they need help whether it be with personal issues, abusive relationships or mental health concerns. To protect the privacy of the children that call this number, it will not appear on your telephone bill as it is a protected service, but that wouldn’t be true of the Investigatory powers bill.
I want to be clear, I don’t want to protect or condone criminal or terrorist activity on the internet, any more than I would condone it in the real world. This is where I see this whole thing will fall apart anyway, it won’t protect the UK from criminal and terrorist actions and will only hurt law abiding citizens. This is because lets face it, the people that wish to carry out criminal and terrorist behaviour on the internet are more tech savoy than the average computer user. Even with these far reaching mass surveillance rules there is still things that can be done to hide your activity. Criminal and terrorist organisations will just put in more high tech solutions such as Tor, Proxies and VPN’s (for the geeks out there) in order to hide there activity from law enforcement agencies. Whats more with all this data been collected regarding our private lives, this may actually assist terrorism and criminal activity as should an unauthorised party can access to the data they could very well use to black mail, manipulate or exploit individuals for their own dark purposes.
The only reason in my opinion that the Investigative Powers Bill has got as far as it has, is because of a genuine and understandable lack of of comprehension of the finer points of its implications. If for example the government wish to increase the right to stop and search for no reason, or wanted to read all your post then there would be outcry by the general populous of the UK, but because this is happening on the “internet” people don’t understand the full disaster that this could cause for your right to some privacy. As we live our lives and carry out everything from human to financial interactions on the internet, privacy on the net will become as important if not more important than privacy in the real world. If this concerns you then you are far from alone, there have been a number of concerns raised by a wide range of people. For example on Wednesday 9th March 2016, It was report to the UN Human Rights Council (On The Register) that such a law is disproportionate and does not comply with recent human rights rulings.
The Investigatory Powers Bill, also attempts to destroy or fundamentally undermine other essentials systems that are used to protect an individuals rights, privacy and security not only on the internet but also on many devices such as smartphones. In this post I have intentionally addressed the concept of mass surveillance aspect of the bill, and have not covered the other concerns the bill raises.
For more information on protecting Your Online Privacy see: