Investigatory Powers Act goes into force, putting UK citizens under intense new spying regime

From the end of 2016, every British citizen is living under spying powers that have been deemed 'world-leading – but only as a beacon for despots everywhere'

Andrew Griffin
Saturday 31 December 2016 16:40 GMT
Theresa May was central to pushing through the new spying laws in her job as home secretary
Theresa May was central to pushing through the new spying laws in her job as home secretary

The UK's Investigatory Powers Act is now in effect, placing Britain under some of the widest-ranging spying powers ever seen.

The law – passed last month but going into effect on 30 December – is intended as an update to Britain's often unwieldy surveillance legislation. But it also includes a large set of new powers – including the ability to collect the browsing records of everyone in the country and have them read by authorities as diverse as the Food Standards Agency and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Most of the central parts of the act are now in force. That includes new powers to gather and retain data on citizens, and new ways to force technology companies and others to hand over the data that they have about people to intelligence agencies.

Many of the most invasive powers in the bill haven't yet gone into force. That includes, for instance, the collection of those Internet Connection Records, which has been postponed until the government and internet companies have worked out how they can collect such information safely.

The government has argued that the powers introduced in the bill are necessary to allow intelligence agencies and police to stop modern crime and prosecute the people involved in it.

But Bella Sankey, Amnesty’s policy director, said that it was a "sad day" when the bill passed into law last month.

“The Home Secretary is right that the Government has a duty to protect us, but these measures won’t do the job," she said then. "Instead they open every detail of every citizen’s online life up to state eyes, drowning the authorities in data and putting innocent people’s personal information at massive risk.

"This new law is world-leading – but only as a beacon for despots everywhere. The campaign for a surveillance law fit for the digital age continues, and must now move to the courts."

The law has been opposed by tens of thousands of people in a public petition. But much of that opposition only started after the bill was quietly passed into law by MPs, meaning that it was unlikely to have any effect.

But some of the central powers of the law were criticised by European courts earlier this month. As such, the law is set to face a range of legal challenges and could be changed in the coming months and years.

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