Have you ever found yourself, whether intentionally or by accident, on a webpage discussing STDs? Or how about a porn site? Perhaps you are interested in the online recruiting methodology ISIS? How about the latest research on the use of hallucinogenics to treat alcoholism or PTSD? Whatever you intent might have been, those searches, indeed, all searches, will now be preserved by law by your ISP if you live in Britain.
In a frightening development that would not surprise Orwell but should shock and appall the rest of us, Big Brother has flexed his mighty muscles:
After months of wrangling, Parliament has passed a contentious new snooping law that gives authorities — from police and spies to food regulators, fire officials and tax inspectors — powers to look at the internet browsing records of everyone in the country.
Civil liberties groups say the law establishes mass surveillance of British citizens, following innocent internet users from the office to the living room and the bedroom.
The Investigatory Powers Bill — dubbed the "snoopers' charter" by critics — was passed by Parliament this month after more than a year of debate and amendments. It will become law when it receives the formality of royal assent next week.While this chilling bill will not provide access to the individual pages you may have consulted, it will provide the websites visited as well as the apps used and messaging services utilized.
As if this bold intrusion into citizens' privacy weren't enough,
Officials won't need a warrant to access the data, and the list of bodies that can see it includes not just the police and intelligence services, but government departments, revenue and customs officials and even the Food Standards Agency.So shouldn't people simply rely on encryption methods to keep their communications private? Unfortunately, it's not that simple:
Service providers are also concerned by the law's provision that firms can be asked to remove encryption to let spies access communications. Internet companies say that could weaken the security of online shopping, banking and a host of other activities that rely on encryption.It might be tempting for Canadians to heave a sigh of relief that they do not live in this brave new British world. But that would be unspeakably naive, considering the wish-list of our own RCMP:
The RCMP is lobbying the Prime Minister's Office for new powers to bypass digital roadblocks in cases where national security threats and other "high priority" suspects hide online and operate anonymously beyond the reach of police.There will undoubtedly be those lazy thinkers who claim that since their own lives are above reproach, they have nothing to hide. Putting aside the obvious objections to such capitulations, perhaps they should consider this:
"I can safely say that there's criminal activity going on every day that's facilitated by technology that we aren't acting on," RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson told CBC News and the Toronto Star in an exclusive interview.
Today's idle online curiosity may very well become tomorrow's crime.