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Politics Today

Does the Investigatory Powers Bill mean no more privacy?

todayJuly 28, 2016 31

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The News Hour

The Bill would give them powers to intercept our communications and impose on telephone and Internet service providers an obligation to keep records of our telephone calls and our use of the Internet and the websites we visit for 12 months. This would enable the Security Services to monitor the activities of people suspected of having terrorist loyalties and intentions. It would also enable the police to identify people accessing paedophile sites or gangs organising criminal acts.  The Security Services would be permitted to bug our computers and telephones after obtaining a warrant and service providers would be legally obliged to assist them. Technically terrorists could  encrypt their email messages but the service providers would be required to help the authorities to bypass encryption.

When the Bill was first published it provoked howls of outrage and was called a “Snooper’s Charter”. The Opposition and three Select Committees pressed for changes and the Bill was revised to incorporate most of their recommendations.  The House of Commons subsequently voted for the Bill 444 to 69 against. The increasing level of terrorist threats and safeguards against abuse of these powers helped to secure this result. The Bill will establish an Investigatory Powers Commission (IPC) consisting of serving and former senior judges to oversee the use of these powers and the issuing of warrants to exercise them. The House of Lords are examining the legislation line by line in Committee and may vote for further safeguards.

Underlying the controversy surrounding this legislation is the tension between the rights of the individual, the national interest and the common good. Those sympathetic to the activities of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden and see them as campaigners for truth predictably, oppose this Bill as an intrusion into people’s private lives like that in totalitarian societies. They note that China has similar measures in place.  Supporters consider the measure as a necessary means of codifying what the Security Services can and cannot do to protect us and prevent terrorist acts.

We are entitled to privacy except when there is a good and sufficient reason for the State to intrude for our safety. A YouGov poll found that 44% said it would not bother them to know that they could be spied upon and didn’t think they were being spied upon. Defenders of the Bill say if one has nothing to hide one has nothing to fear from this measure. If it prevents further terrorist outrages like those in Paris, Brussels and Nice, our own 7/7 and Glasgow airport bombings and the 9/11 Twin Towers incidents in the USA , they will be seen as justified by most people. We are told that the Security Services have recently foiled seven such acts in the UK.  If they can identify those who are accessing extremist websites they are more likely to prevent these acts. At the same time it will be crucial that the IPC ensures these powers are not used improperly.

Written by: Miriam Emenike

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