After one year of drafting and amending, the British government has finally passed a new law dealing with surveillance and national security. The Investigatory Powers Bill (IPB) immediately attracted the attention of whistle-blower Edward Snowden, who said the IPB legalises "the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy".
I find the IPB petrifying. It expands the powers drastically. It expands hacking powers of the police and of the intelligence agencies. It expands mass surveillance powers and journalists are not given any specific protections under any of those new laws.
Critics have also raised concerns about the law's potential implications for journalists.
Ever since the 9/11 attacks, British reporters have been subject to stop-and-search requests from the police, as well as mining of their digital data and secret monitoring of their communications. A handful of reporters somehow ended up in the same databases that police use to track extremists.
The new law legalises measures, such as those that have been used up until now on an ad hoc basis, and it does more than that.
The journalistic shorthand for the bill is the Snoopers' Charter, but the government rejects the implication, arguing that the legal changes will provide intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the powers they need to fight "terrorism" and investigate crime.
In defending the bill, David Omand, the former director of GCHQ, the Communications Headquarters of the UK's intelligence and security set up, says "You just have to get the mechanics right, and so the public has got to have confidence that if it gives these powerful tools and the legal authority to the police and intelligence agencies, it will be used responsibly."
But the lack of trust could be one reason why a petition demanding further debate of the IPB gathered more than 140,000 signatures.
"The prospect of unfettered state access to everything by human agents, malware planted in your mobile phone, malware planted in your computer, systematic surveillance and automatic networking of everyone you're in touch with, is absolutely terrifying. One uses this analogy hesitatingly - from the point of view of the Gestapo or the Stasi, it's a dream come true," says investigative reporter Duncan Campbell.
However, with royal assent being granted, the Investigatory Powers Bill now has the official stamp to be codified into law. As it stands, the extensive surveillance powers will come into force at the beginning of 2017.
The Listening Post's Flo Phillips reports on the UK's new surveillance act and the relationship between the security state and the journalists covering it.
Source: Al Jazeera