Another Reason for Using a VPN: the Investigatory Powers Bill

A new spectre is haunting the UK: the Investigatory Powers Bill, also affectionately known as the Snoopers' Charter. This act will be one of the most extensive ones in Europe when it comes to mass surveillance. Yet critics are saying that this merely legalises the common practices of the UK secret services.

In 2015 it became known that British authorities had been violating the law for many years when a report was published by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation after being requested by the UK government. Since then the bill was prepared and discussed by the government while the public was busy with the Brexit referendum. In November, the bill was passed by both chambers of the British parliament, led by Prime Minister Theresa May. It was her who in her previous role as Home Secretary had first brought the act into parliament in 2015.

But in what way will this bill affect the ordinary internet user and why is using a VPN even more important than before? To answer that let us have a look into some of the main topics that are touched by the bill:

Data Retention

The Investigatory Powers Bill stipulates that all data that is recorded by internet providers has to be saved for a year. This data includes all visited websites, the source IP and mobile number, and the corresponding date and time of the request. These records are not limited to websites but also include, for example, messenger connections or email (like WhatsApp and Google Mail). Even though the content is not saved with this data, the intelligence services and police authorities will have a pretty good picture of what any individual person is doing online. Most worrying is that fact that there seems to be no limit to the justifications that authorities can use to access this data. This means that anybody can fall under the focus of the authorities.

Here a service like ZenMate's VPN can help to protect the data of their users. The rules of the Snoopers' Charter mostly apply to ISPs of landline or mobile providers. If you connect via the ZenMate VPN to a website, the provider will only record that you access the ZenMate service but not the URL that you are actually calling. If you use our UK servers our service providers will not record that data as it is not an ISP. If you connect with one of our servers not located in the UK it will not fall under the legal restrictions of the UK. Additionally, ZenMate will never record the URLs and services used by its customers. So even if the authorities want to have that information, ZenMate is not able to provide it.

Intercepting internet traffic and encryption

With the Investigatory Powers Bill the authorities of the UK will be able to carry out the bulk interception of internet traffic. This will not only give them information about the source and target of the internet connection, but also about the content.

The only effective steps to take against this kind of surveillance is end-to-end encryption of the complete connection. ZenMate VPN uses well-known protocols (TSL & IPSec) that are widely used and there is no evidence so far that these protocols have security breaches. So, with ZenMate VPN nobody can decrypt the content of your internet connections even if you are using our UK servers.

There is an additional aspect: due to the Investigatory Powers Bill, companies can be forced to help the authorities to bypass or crack encryption technologies. They will even have to inform the government if they want to develop new encryption technologies and have to give support in installing backdoors. As a German-based company ZenMate is not falling under the legislative of the UK. So ZenMate will never have to explode the private keys of the secure connections to public authorities.

Conclusion

In modern days, more and more governments try to install laws that give them the power to observe their people in an ever more sophisticated way. With the latest example of the UK, it is shown that this is not limited to dictatorships or authoritarian governments. The risk of this is that regular, law-abiding citizens are falling under the focus of systematic observation.

Furthermore, by having this kind of technology another risk arises: data is the gold of our days, and private companies also want to get access to this data to use it for their own purpose. This means that data security is not only a basic democratic right that guarantees us freedom of opinion, but is also a tangible economic advantage. Therefore, services like ZenMate VPN are unfortunately becoming a vital tool for anyone who wants to exercise their right to data privacy.

Want to learn more about the Snoopers Charter and how it affects you? Check out our other blog posts about the matter here.