How the UK Government can hack your personal data

Originally published by Mashable, 18th February 2017

By Gianluca Mezzofiore


From the moment you set foot on British soil, your personal data could easily be accessed, or even hacked, by the government.

New invasive legislation has been dubbed by critics as one of the most extreme surveillance laws ever passed in a democracy.

The Snoopers’ Charter — aka the Investigatory Powers Act — was passed into law at the end of last year. It arguably removes your right to online privacy.

In short, it forces internet companies to keep bulk records of all the websites you visit for up to a year and allows the UK government to coerce tech companies to hand over your web history with a retention notice and remove encryption, upon request.

If you think all of this sounds rather alarming, it’s because it is.

So what happens if you’re an unsuspecting visitor blissfully unaware of mass surveillance in the UK? Here’s a provisional guide:

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A Law That Treats All Citizens As Suspects

This is a video interview with Euronews, published on 27th January 2017, discussing how the Investigatory Powers Act (‘Snooper’s Charter’) affects us, and the onset of Liberty’s legal challenge to the mass surveillance powers.

Full video here: The UK’s new surveillance powers treat all citizens as suspects




Nothing to hide, nothing to fear? Think again.

This curious aphorism has, at times, threatened to deaden the debate on privacy that arose since Snowden blew the whistle on transnational mass surveillance. The submissive posture of ‘I have nothing to hide and therefore nothing to fear’ is a popular resort for those avoidant of critical thought – perhaps due to their subjection to a surveillance system so powerful, so omniscient, so secret, and so unknowingly invading their world, that it had only been encountered, until now, as a fearful thought experiment in dystopian fiction. Some, not least the political class, seem unable to deal with the reality.

Accordingly, ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ is the kind of eerie statement you would expect to hear only in a totalitarian regime, and perhaps obediently echoed by its brainwashed subjects who you, as the privileged, educated, and valued citizen of a Western democracy, would pity. “We” have had our debates on individual liberty, privacy, democratic practices and balances of governmental power. We have responded to tyrannical tragedies of political history, we have evolved with robust constitutions, we have proudly committed to human rights acts, and we have expected them to be followed closely.

But it seems that with the birth of the New World, the digital world, we will see the same struggle between power and liberty that the Old World has endured for all civilisation. The New World seems to be a tabula rasa, with the hard lessons gained about power, politics and human nature momentarily forgotten and constitutional values trampled in the race to dominate and exploit the new abstract terrain.

A person parroting that they have ‘nothing to hide’ and therefore ‘nothing to fear’ is saying something so void, that it doesn’t necessarily mean they are pro-mass surveillance. It means that they are not anti-mass surveillance. It means that, realizing it has been imposed on their life, the lives of all those they love and care about, and the lives of people further afar who they may never meet, they consider themselves not personally at risk and therefore have abstained from further critical analysis. Effectively, they are proclaiming a commitment to unconditionally submit.

Let’s respond to the ‘nothing to hide’ aphorism in the following ten points.

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Just published: ‘Information Security for Journalists’

I have recently written Information Security for Journalists which is available freely here: This handbook, commissioned and now published by the Centre for Investigative Journalism, is designed to educate serious investigative journalists in the largely invisible risks to the security of their information and communications. It offers comprehensive step-by-step instructions in measures one can take to defend against these threats, for different levels of risk. It is irresponsible if not impossible to conduct serious investigative journalism without an awareness of information security. I hope that you find this handbook useful, or can share it with those who might. A second edition will follow soon as we work on new ‘infosec’ strategies and respond to public feedback. The handbook is also being translated into Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Portugese, Spanish, and other languages. I am aware of various high risk groups of sources courageously speaking out now or considering speaking out – particularly in areas where official channels consistently fail. Journalists (and indeed a select few politicians) working on these cases absolutely must protect their sources, their stories, and themselves. Getting in touch It is my pleasure to offer confidential, voluntary support to the great journalists and sources who need it most. You are most welcome to get in touch with me at – I will do my best to help. I use email encryption and you can find my key here (updated Oct 2014) or on the public keyserver. Should anyone who is not currently using encryption wish to get in touch anonymously, you can download the anonymising Tor browser, and use that browser to start up an anonymous email account (with a provider who does not require a phone number or similar for verification – try Yandex or GMX).