Theresa May becoming Prime Minister is bad news for privacy campaigners

Theresa mayStefan Rousseau / PA Wire/Press Association ImagesHome Secretary Theresa May is due to become Prime Minister on Wednesday.

Home Secretary Theresa May will become Britain’s new Prime Minister on Wednesday despite the fact that not one member of the public has voted for her to lead the country.

The new Tory leader wants to ensure we leave the EU, cut immigration, and keep nuclear weapons.

But there’s one other important policy that has a large effect on the technology industry: mass surveillance.

May has spent the last year or so aggressively trying to push a piece of legislation through parliament called the Investigatory Powers Bill, or the IP Bill.

The bill is intended to update the powers of the police and other public agencies that monitor the public’s communications.

May claims the bill will help the UK to tackle the threat of extremism and identify paedophiles. That’s obviously a good thing. But the bill also strips every UK citizen of their fundamental right to privacy.

Nicknamed the “Snooper’s Charter”, the bill gives the state widespread access to every UK citizen’s electronic communications and their digital devices. It would specifically allow for the storage of internet browsing records for 12 months and authorise the bulk collection of personal data. Reports like this one suggest bulk data collection is already happening but the new IP bill would make it legal.

GCHQMinistry of DefenceMay wants to give GCHQ additional spying powers.

Privacy campaigners have said the bill will hand sweeping powers to the state to conduct the kinds of data-gathering revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Jim Killock, executive director at the Open Rights Group, told The Inquirer: “If the bill is passed in its current state, May will have been the architect behind one of the most extreme surveillance laws found in a democracy.”

Big Brother Watch and Privacy International also claim the proposed level of surveillance is unacceptable, while Anne Jellema, CEO of the World Wide Web Foundation, said in a statement in February:

“Does the UK really want the dubious honour of introducing powers deemed too intrusive by all other major democracies, joining the likes of China and Russia in collecting everyone’s browsing habits?

“This would trample on long-cherished British freedoms and would hurt British businesses, not to mention that we have little evidence that it would make us safer. It’s time for the Home Office to drop this misguided idea entirely.”

Technology companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft have also criticised the bill. The group presented their views to the Investigatory Powers Bill Joint Committee on December 21 2015, arguing for significant modifications.

The tech firms want to protect their users’ privacy and are therefore reluctant to sign up to a number of proposals in the 299-page bill, including bulk surveillance, weaker encryption, and measures that could force them to hack their own customers.

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