Is ‘snooping’ bill a step too far?

By Tom Lee, Account Director

As Apple is winning its battle against the FBI across the pond, what has the UK Home Office decided to do? Enter a privacy battle of its own, of course.

The newly proposed privacy safeguards, formally titled the ‘Investigatory Powers Bill’, will force service providers to store browsing records for 12 months according to the BBC. Essentially your entire internet browsing history will be made available to the police and other crime prevention services.

Now that doesn’t sound particularly inviting to the public, especially if you consider that this opens the door for the mass surveillance of UK citizens in the future. That fear is bound to intensify in the months ahead and cause more scrutiny on a subject that justifies attention. Privacy is a citizen’s right, after all.

However, the aim is to give police and intelligence services increased powers to tackle terrorism and handle certain investigations with a new-found jurisdiction. In theory, this is good news, and probably a step in the right direction. But what if this privilege is misused?

How much can you tell about a person from their  browsing history? A lot, advertisers would probably say. The government is arguing that your browsing history is the same as a telephone record. Well, considering that adverts are tailored to you based on what you’ve searched for or looked at online, that’s quite sophisticated. I’m afraid that’s definitely more advanced than receiving a cold call on a Sunday night from someone telling you about your injury at work, that I’m 99.9{20156fe61baea400d2663eb990f17abdabeb6ef183a2129287a793abd8ac1d8a} certain never happened.

The UK government expects the new legislation to be in place by the end of the year. When you consider how difficult it has been for the FBI to challenge Apple – even with a terrorist attack on the cards – it’s hard to see this time scale not being challenged by someone.

The other question remains – who actually owns the data? Is it the manufacturing technology firms like Apple? Perhaps even the government? Let’s not forget about the consumer too. If I am looking at something on my own computer, at home, I’d consider that to be private.

Now the government would argue that in the cases of a criminal suspect, it could potentially stop a terrorist act before it happens. That makes complete sense, if the legislation is used for the right reasons and in justified investigations. But that requires a level of trust from the public towards the police, that the organisation is using the data in the right way. Even the slightest mismanagement could cause public outrage and front page news.

Although it is highly unlikely to ever happen, tech giants like Apple fear they would be forced to fit “backdoors” into their devices, or compromise their customers’ security. In the case of national security, of course it’s justified, but not for any old crime. But where do we draw the line?

The technology space will be watching on with eager eyes in the next few months as the legislation makes its way through parliament.