Expect ‘daily intrusion’ of your privacy under Theresa May’s new surveillance law – Manchester rights group

People should be fearful of ‘daily intrusions’ by police to their internet records and even personal messages without a warrant, warns a Manchester digital rights organisation.

Manchester Open Rights Group (ORG) issued this warning after Theresa May’s announcement of a new law to grant police and security services access to internet records without the current judicial checks. 

ORG believe the new surveillance powers are ‘extremely intrusive and powerful’ and ‘are not a risk worth taking’.

Under the provisions of the draft investigatory powers bill, Ms May set out plans to have internet and phone companies ‘keep internet connection records’ for a maximum of 12 months.

But access to this data will not require a warrant for the police, security services or other bodies.

However local authorities will be banned from accessing internet records.

Tom Chiverton, of Manchester ORG, told MM: “This is an intrusion into the day-to-day life of anyone. 

“Even storing just the web site names like is enough to find out a lot about someone.

“From if they have a job, to what sort of news they like and even what medical conditions they suffer from or their sexual preferences.

“You might not worry about people knowing these about you, but for some people it’s important, such as if their religion frowns on being gay.

“Retaining all this for months, when the Government already proudly says it has stopped ‘terror attacks’ without the sweeping new powers, seems like overreach.

“Recent events with Talk Talk and similar have shown how much data companies already hold on us, and the dire consequences when, not if, that goes wrong and leaks out.

“Requiring the storage of even more, for some undefined benefit, isn’t a risk we should be taking.”

The proposed legislation will also introduce a ‘double-lock’ on ministerial approval of interception warrants, with a new panel of seven judicial commissioners.

But the ‘double-lock’ will not apply in ‘urgent cases’ and security services will be able to spy on the content of people’s conversations and messages without a court-approved warrant.

A case is deemed ‘urgent’ if the courts say it will take five days to obtain a warrant but the police decide the matter is too pressing to wait that long.

The existing system of three oversight commissioners has been replaced with a single investigatory powers commissioner who will be a senior judge.

The Prime Minister will also be consulted in all cases involving the interception of MPs’ communication. 

Safeguards on requests for communications data in other ‘sensitive professions’ such as journalism are to be written into the law.

The draft is set to provide an overhaul of Britain’s surveillance laws, more than two years after disclosures by whistleblower Edward Snowden on the scale of secret mass surveillance carried out by UK’s GCHQ.

Mr Chiverton added that local businesses, from larger companies like Zen Internet to smaller ‘local success stories’ that work on the internet, will see increased costs if they are forced to store and protect extra data.

He said: “There could even be legal risks if the courts ultimately say the collection is unlawful due to it’s blanket nature.

“[There could be] challenges under the Human Rights Act, which gives a right to privacy and private life.

“The EU has already taken a dim view of the mass retention of video chats and other data Edward Snowden revealed.

“Companies could also drown under requests for the data by their customers under the Data Protection Act, which they’d have to verify and fulfil.”

However, National Police Chiefs’ Council Chair Sara Thornton argues that the police will use the surveillance powers to protect the public.

She told MM: “We use our powers of investigation, like access to communications data, to protect the public, preserve life and prevent and detect crime.

“Our capabilities have not kept up with changes in technology and how people communicate.

“Meaning there are more and more blind-spots where we can’t trace criminal activity or find crucial information to protect people at risk of harm.

“With independent scrutiny and authorisation, we need to be able to pursue investigative leads in a digital space by requesting information.

“About where people are connecting to the internet; who they are speaking to and the sites they are visiting but not the content of what is said.

“This is the modern equivalent of using phone numbers in a targeted way to find out who someone has called or texted; a simple investigative capability that has been accepted for many years.

“We have been asked to present our operational requirement for investigatory powers and we have done so.

“It is for Government and Parliament to determine what powers are available to us and how they are overseen.”

Image courtesy of Elvert Barnes, with thanks.

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