Only a day after an appeal court in the US ruled an NSA surveillance program illegal, the UK has struck a blow to opponents of mass surveillance worldwide. For those of us who believe in digital rights, this election could not have gone worse.
It’s a disaster, and let me explain why.
Under the coalition, the Conservatives were desperate to pass the Communications Data Bill (aka the Snooper’s Charter). Luckily their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, were wary of the idea and the bill was put on the backburner.
The Home Secretary Theresa May has confirmed that the new Tory majority government will revive the Snooper’s Charter and you can bet they’ll try and pass it into law as soon as they can.
The draft bill would dramatically expand the scale of mass surveillance in the UK. It forces every mobile phone and internet company to store data (but not content) on every single message you write, site you visit, social media activity you carry out, voice calls you make, email you send, and make that data accessible to the police and security services without a warrant or judicial oversight.
It would allow the government to force the Royal Mail to record the detail of every postcard, letter, and parcel sent (delivery/return address, names etc) throughout the UK.
It would allow the security services to install ‘black boxes’ at every ISP to carry out man-in-the-middle attacks on all your web traffic.
Imagine you’re a whistleblower, a leaker, a journalist, or a human rights lawyer, what hope will you have to communicate in private when all your movements, messages, and calls are stored and accessible almost in real-time?
I know this all sounds a bit 1984, but it is real and it’s very possible this will become law so we need to do something about it.
“If we do not act, we risk sleepwalking into a society in which crime can no longer be investigated and terrorists can plot their murderous schemes undisrupted.”
- Theresa May
At a recent Q&A Alan Rusbridger (Guardian editor-in-chief) had some rather striking thoughts. He has spoken to many senior government officials about surveillance and the Snowden leaks, and said they find it impossible to think rationally about these issues.
They are petrified of being seen as weak on terrorism. They live in fear that some new attack will happen under their watch. So when representatives from GCHQ come knocking on their door asking for more powers, politicians fall over themselves to acquiesce.
It doesn’t help that the average MP grew up when the internet didn’t exist, and barely knows what Facebook is.
I still believe that enough MPs can be persuaded to vote against the bill, but it will take a huge effort to get even a small number to go against the whip.
And if MPs don’t listen, what can we do?
“Trust the math. Encryption is your friend. Use it well, and do your best to ensure that nothing can compromise it. That’s how you can remain secure even in the face of the NSA.”
- Bruce Schneier
Use services with strong end-to-end encryption. The market for secure communications services has flourished post-Snowden, and apps such as Signal and TextSecure are great ways to fight back against mass surveillance.
And don’t give up.
As the recent court ruling in the US has shown, there is still hope. People and companies are waking up to the importance of privacy and encryption, and there are still multiple legal cases going through the courts on both sides of the Atlantic.
“I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”
- Edward Snowden
This battle is far from over.« Back to blog