The government has finally published the Investigatory Powers Bill, which will expand the powers of the security services to spy on people's web browsing activities.
The new version of the bill will almost certainly face opposition from ISPs who will be required to store web browsing records for 12 months, a burden that may force many smaller ISPs out of business.
The government wants police and other security agencies to have the power to tap this database to investigate terrorism and other serious crimes. The government has said this will cost businesses £247m, but it remains unclear who will pay.
Furthermore, rather than watering down police powers to tap these web-browsing databases, home secretary Theresa May has proposed expanding them to enable police to access all web-browsing records in specific crime investigations. The original bill had specified only illegal websites and communications services.
These powers will not need the 'double-lock' ministerial authorisation outlined in the original bill. May also rejected Parliamentary committees' recommendations not to extend state internet surveillance powers for the purposes of the "economic well-being" of the UK.
May also proposes to expand police computer hacking powers, allowing the National Crime Agency and all major forces, such as the Metropolitan Police, to hack even in cases where it is claimed that there is potential "damage to somebody's mental health".
The legislation proposes making it lawful for the security services to engage in bulk interception of internet traffic, and will provide a framework in which they can legally collect this traffic, which may include personal details, such as emails, bank and medical records.
The bill will formally legalise many practices that the security services are known to have engaged in for a decade or more following the Edward Snowden disclosures.
However, privacy safeguards have been slightly tightened up in response to three critical Parliamentary reports published over the past two months.
Furthermore, the government has denied claims that it seeks to rush the bill through Parliament, a move intended to keep shadow home secretary Andy Burnham onside, which would assure the bill's passage through Parliament.
There have also been changes made to the proposed surveillance law on encryption in a bid to address widespread technology industry concerns that it would undermine the UK's tech sector.
However, the changes will have done little to assuage the concerns of privacy activists and technology companies that had already spoken out after the first draft.
The latest version drew stinging criticism from Open Rights Group executive director Jim Killock, who said it showed the Home Office "treating the British public with contempt".
"MPs and peers need sufficient time to consider the fundamental threats to our privacy and security posed by the Investigatory Powers Bill. Many have their minds elsewhere, dealing with important decisions about Europe," he said.
“On first reading, the revised bill barely pays lip service to the concerns raised by the committees that scrutinised the draft. If passed, it would mean that the UK has one of the most draconian surveillance laws of any democracy with mass surveillance powers to monitor every citizen's browsing history."
Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) chair James Blessing also sounded warnings that the new bill had been produced very quickly despite the huge importance of the issues it was tasked to cover.
“With the Joint Committee publishing its report a mere nineteen days ago to conclude the pre-legislative parliamentary scrutiny, ISPA is disappointed that the Home Office has moved forward with a revised Bill in such a short space of time.
"It is widely agreed that a new legislative framework is needed that balances the interests of privacy, security and the impact on the Internet industry."
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