The UK to Monitor Its Citizens’ Internet Use

There is an unfortunate fine line between protecting people and violating their rights, and privacy advocates fear that a new UK law called the Investigatory Powers (IP) Bill may have just crossed it. The law, recently approved by both houses of Parliament and royal assent, will make the UK the most stringent surveillance group of any other country.

So why would anyone think this is a good idea? To put it in terms that the lawmakers have explained, this type of data monitoring and collection is necessary to curtail terrorism and to thwart internet-based crimes.

The data in question will include the internet search history of all UK citizens, whether on their computers or their phones, and allows for the government to monitor individuals in other countries as well. It won’t be comprehensive, meaning it will record the day, time, and duration that someone went to (for example), but won’t show what pages or content they looked at on that site. For now, private correspondence like emails and text messages are supposed to be out from under this surveillance, but analysts have said the law leaves the door open for that to be monitored as well.

What has privacy experts so concerned is the backward approach to protecting the public. Rather than investigating a crime and gathering evidence, this law will make it possible to go looking for evidence that a crime could be committed in the future based on the supposition that visiting certain websites means you may have criminal intent.

Another cause for alarm is the ability to hack into entire geographic regions, including those outside the UK. If the government has reason to believe a specific town could be the site of a large-scale crime, this law allows them to initiate monitoring of every cell phone user and computer user in the city without their knowledge.

Again, many people would willingly give up their online privacy if it meant nabbing a child pornography ring or human traffickers. But from a personal security standpoint, there is concern about how the monitored information will be protected and stored. The internet service providers and cellular providers will be required to store users’ online history for one year, essentially building a database with your personal data and your internet behavior. That database could be hacked—and that much information on an entire country’s population will certainly be an enticing prize for hackers who want personal identifying information or those who wish to protest the law by demonstrating its flaws.

There is a very important takeaway from this news that serves as a reminder for every internet user around the world. Whether it becomes a government mandate or not, what many of us think of as privacy isn’t really all that private. Before laws like the new IP Bill, your information and activity may have been just as vulnerable to outside spying as ever, but the government couldn’t do anything with the gathered information. The IP Bill clears the way for law enforcement to use data that hackers have already been able to access for years.

Anyone who believes their personal data has been compromised is invited to connect with the ITRC through our toll-free call center at (888) 400-5530, or on-the-go with the new IDTheftHelp app for iOS and Android.

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