UK lawmakers approve ‘orwellian’ surveillance powers

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The most significant revamping of British surveillance laws in 15 years passed the House of Lords this week and now awaits rubber-stamp approval from Queen Elizabeth II before coming into force.  It would, among other things, require internet providers to log people’s browsing history for up to a year and allow law enforcement agencies to access them to help with investigations.

It also grants legal footing to existing but murky powers such as the hacking of computers and smartphones, while introducing limited safeguards such as the need for a judge to authorize interception warrants. Prime Minister Theresa May introduced the bill in March when she was still Home Secretary, describing it as “world-leading” legislation intended to reflect the change in online communications.

But Edward Snowden, the former US National Security Agency contractor turned whistleblower, warned it was a blueprint for state repression.

Liberty, a UK-based human rights group, challenged the legislation at the European Court of Justice, arguing it is incompatible with existing European human rights law.

“Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the state has achieved totalitarian-style surveillance powers, the most intrusive system of any democracy in human history,” Bella Sankey, the group’s policy director, said in a statement on Thursday.

“The fight does not end here. Our message to Government: ‘See you in court.'”

The law would also reinforce existing encryption powers, allowing officials to demand technology firms turn over encrypted content where it is deemed “practicable.” The tech industry has warned this could pave the way for further state demands on the private sector to relinquish private data.

In Germany, recent legislation, and a controversial court decision, has expanded the state’s intelligence agency’s surveillance powers for counterterrorism operations. That law empowers state security agents to spy on allies and even EU institutions in the event of a perceived security threat.