Until now, it was only your crazy brother-in-law who tried to convince you that the government was spying on your computer, but go ahead and grab yourself a tinfoil hat: the UK has just passed a law that gives them the authority to monitor all citizens’ internet use, including the ability to hack into both individuals’ and entire geographic populations’ activity.
Called the Investigatory Powers Bill, the law at one point might have been proposed with some good intentions. Supporters of the law still claim that the invasion of privacy is necessary in order to curb terrorism and thwart crime. And truthfully, in the face of internet child pornography and sex trafficking, this type of government spying might seem like a small price to pay to protect vulnerable people.
Unfortunately, as with all good intentions, this law opens the door for harm down the road. Law enforcement and government agencies will be able to call up any citizen’s web history, something that the internet service providers and cellular providers will be required to store for one year. While the specific pages a visitor chooses to view won’t be available, the domain name of the website itself will.
It gets worse. The law allows the government to spy on entire regions of the world, from a small town within the country to a mountaintop village on the other side of the planet (assuming they have internet connections). The claim is again that this is necessary for preventing acts of terror, but it relies on the faulty premise of gathering up all of the information in the hopes that someone is a criminal, rather than gathering that evidence once there’s actually reason to believe the person might be a criminal.
Some of the other concerns include what kind of collateral damage discovery will take place. If the police go searching through John’s internet use to see if he’s been looking at bomb-making instructions, they’ll just happen to see that Mike, Dave, and Diane have also been visiting that site. In many rational parts of the world, that type of unwarranted discovery would automatically be excluded from ever appearing in court, even if Mike, Dave, or Diane later commit a crime.
The real problem? Solutions like this one don’t do anything to stop criminals, they only impact people with honest intentions. The real criminals will find a workaround–as they always do–while everyday citizens will have to sign away their rights to privacy while pretending to be protected by the measure.