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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Join Our Legal Challenge Against Our Authoritarian Surveillance Regime

By Silkie Carlo

Originally published on The Huffington Post, 10 January 2017

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Since the Snoopers’ Charter – or Investigatory Powers Act – passed in November, everything you’ve done online, every phone call you’ve made, every text message you’ve sent, every place you’ve been with your phone has been stored in a database by order of the British Government. And it’s been made accessible to everyone from the taxman to the Department for Work and Pensions – as well as other governments, like that of the United States.

Under the new law, authorities have also been granted powers to hack thousands of devices at once – without any reason for suspicion – simply to make sure they can keep listening in on everything you do, all the time.

All this surveillance is supposed to keep us safe from terrorists who want to attack our democracy – but what could be more undemocratic, more dangerous, and more defeatist than treating all British citizens like suspects and tearing apart the freedoms that define us?

These are digital stop and search powers with unprecedented secrecy and sophistication – on steroids. The potential for discrimination, persecution and abuse is unthinkable.

President-elect Trump has already committed to using his arsenal of mass surveillance powers against all Muslims and anti-racism activists. What might the UK Government of today or moreover, tomorrow, do with such totalitarian-style powers?

We have long expected to be able to correspond, meet, telephone one another, read newspapers, enjoy radio and films, join political parties, explore faiths, visit libraries, travel, demonstrate, seek medical advice, take and share photographs, and express ourselves freely and without the watchful eye of the state. But with our daily lives increasingly digitised, pervasive surveillance under the Snoopers’ Charter rips those freedoms away and reshapes British values for the future, almost beyond recognition.

Ironically, the Snoopers’ Charter not only attacks our democratic values, but jeopardises our cybersecurity. The Government can now force tech companies like Apple to remove encryption and weaken the security of their own products in total secrecy. This means easy mass surveillance for the State, but an increased risk of criminal hacking for us.

Meanwhile, internet providers are now forced to create records of our every online move – what websites we visit on our computers, what apps we use on our phones – and store them, ready for the State to access. TalkTalk wasn’t even able to protect its customers’ credit card details from hacking last year.

So whose hands will your internet history end up in, exactly? If you thought the Ashley Madison hack was bad, I fear you’ve seen nothing yet.

If this worries you, you’re not alone. Since the Snoopers’ Charter was passed by Parliament in November, over 200,000 people have signed a petition calling for its repeal. The Government dismissed those who signed, refusing to debate the Act further.

But the Government cannot dismiss human rights. And the Government cannot dismiss 200,000 people with human rights law on their side.

Just before Christmas, Liberty and Tom Watson MP won a legal challenge against the Government’s previous surveillance law at the EU Court of Justice.

The Court declared that the mass hoarding of our communication logs and internet histories is unnecessary and “cannot be considered to be justified, within a democratic society” – rendering the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act unlawful. The Court also ruled that allowing the police to authorise their own access to our personal information, and to do so without any suspicion of a serious crime, was a breach of rights.

This was a massive victory for our civil liberties in the digital age.

The Snoopers’ Charter re-introduced the same powers that have just been declared illegal – and added new, even more intrusive, ones. But creating a new law for 2017 cannot let the Government circumvent the human rights law that protects us.

So today Liberty has launched The People vs the Snoopers’ Charter – a legal challenge against this authoritarian surveillance regime, backed by the ordinary people subjected to its gaze.

Liberty will be representing the many thousands of people who are determined to stand up for civil liberties. We’ll be challenging new powers to hack our devices en masse, to listen in on millions of innocent people’s communications, collect our phone records, and watch our every move online.

This is a rare chance to be part of a movement that defines our freedoms – not just today, but for the future. Liberty has defended human rights and civil liberties for 80 years, but we must all work together to keep defending them in the digital realm. This could be the beginning of the end for mass surveillance in the UK, The most authoritarian law ever passed in this country will be defeated by the people.

The Snooper’s Charter passed into law this week. Our message to Government – see you in court.

By Silkie Carlo

Originally published on The Independent, 19 November 2016

The fact that you’re on this website is – potentially – state knowledge. Service providers must now store details of everything you do online for 12 months – and make it accessible to dozens of public authorities

This week a law was passed that silently rips privacy from the modern world. It’s called the Investigatory Powers Act.

Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the British state has achieved totalitarian-style surveillance powers – the most intrusive system of any democracy in history. It now has the ability to indiscriminately hack, intercept, record, and monitor the communications and internet use of the entire population.

The hundreds of chilling mass surveillance programmes revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013 were – we assumed – the result of a failure of the democratic process. Snowden’s bravery finally gave Parliament and the public the opportunity to scrutinise this industrial-scale spying and bring the state back into check.

But, in an environment of devastatingly poor political opposition, the Government has actually extended state spying powers beyond those exposed by Snowden – setting a “world-leading” precedent.

The fact that you’re on this website is – potentially – state knowledge. Service providers must now store details of everything you do online for 12 months – and make it accessible to dozens of public authorities.

What does your web history look like? Does it reveal your political interests? Social networks? Religious ideas? Medical concerns? Sexual interests? Pattern of life?

What might the last year of your internet use reveal?

Government agencies have even won powers to hack millions of computers, phones and tablets en masse, leaving them vulnerable to further criminal attacks.

You might think that you have nothing to hide, and therefore nothing to fear. In that case, you may as well post your email and social media login details in the comments below.

But I don’t think we do feel that blasé about our privacy – we cherish our civil liberties. Everyone has a stake in guarding our democracy, protecting minorities from suspicionless surveillance, defending protest rights, freedom of the press, and enjoying the freedom to explore and express oneself online. These freedoms allow our thoughts, opinions and personalities to flourish and develop – they are the very core of democracy.

Has any country in history given itself such extensive surveillance powers and remained a rights-respecting democracy? We need not look too far back – or overseas to see the risks of unbridled surveillance. In recent years, the British state has spied on law-abiding environmental activists, democratically elected politicians, victims of torture and police brutality, and hundreds of journalists.

In fact, as the Bill finally passed on Wednesday evening, I was training a group of British and American journalists in how to protect themselves from state surveillance – not just from Russia or Syria, but from their own countries.

When Edward Snowden courageously blew the whistle on mass surveillance he warned that, armed with such tools, a new leader might “say that ‘because of the crisis, because of the dangers we face in the world, some new and unpredicted threat, we need more authority, we need more power.’ And there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it”.

The US finds itself with a President-elect who has committed to monitoring all mosques, banning all Muslims, investigating Black Lives Matter activists and deporting two to three million people. And with the ushering into law of the UK-US free trade in mass surveillance, MPs may have a lot to answer for.

Liberty and its members fought tooth and nail against this new law from its inception to the moment it was passed. That fight is not yet over. Our message to Government: see you in court.

Silkie Carlo is the policy officer at Liberty

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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