What is the Snooper's Charter and why should I care?

Updated 18/11/16: The Investigatory Powers Bill will now officially become law in the UK. Don't want the government to know what you are doing online? Get ZenMate now.

The British government have just passed a piece of legislation that will give them an unprecedented amount of power when it comes to spying on it's citizens. How did Britain get to this point and why does our government feel the need to acquire powers that go far beyond the scope of any other democratic nation, including America's NSA? Most importantly, why should we care? Read on to find out why Brits are among the most spied upon people in the world and learn what we can do together to stop this.

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What is the Snooper's Charter?

Background to the Investigatory Powers Bill

The Snooper's Charter is the nickname for the Investigatory Powers Bill that was first introduced to parliament by then Home Secretary and now Prime Minister, Theresa May. The bill calls for the bulk collection of all of our personal data and gives the police and security services power to intercept our electronic communication - meaning who we talk to, where we are and what we look at online. This law will apply to all citizens, not only those who are suspected of crime. So basically no matter who you are, the government will be able to access your internet and calling history from the last year, essentially creating a system of mass surveillance in the UK.

Snowden and GCHQ: How we got here

In 2013, Edward Snowden famously shook the world when he revealed the extent of the global surveillance program ran by the NSA in close coorperation with their British counterpart, GCHQ. Snowden's revelations rightly so led to government inquiries in both countries regarding the spying capabilities of security forces. Yet while in the US the Snowden leaks evoked mass criticism and led to a curtailment of state spying powers, the British reaction was simply to make legal what the security services were already doing behind British citizen's backs.

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5 reasons British people should be outraged over the Snooper's Charter

  1. Because your government is lying to you: Theresa May and her colleagues claim that the Investigatory Powers Bill is necessary for protecting British citizens, especially in regards to terrorism. Did you know that there is no evidence that mass surveillance has every thwarted a terrorist attack? Don't believe us? Ask the New York Times.

  2. Because the power is being abused: Do we trust our British security services enough not to abuse this power? A similar act is already in place in relation to local councils and the evidence is not good. According to the Telegraph, local councils have used their 'anti-terrorism' surveillance powers to spy on, among other things, dog walkers failing to clean up after pets in the park. George Orwell is turning in his grave.

  3. Because it makes us more vulnerable to cybercrime: The law allows the government to request that companies such as WhatsApp and Apple remove encryption when requested. If you followed the recent dispute between the FBI and Apple, you will know there is no 'half-measure' when it comes to encryption. If companies are forced to weaken their encryption to allow governments access, they will inevitably become more vulnerable to cyber attacks and hackers, meaning Brits will be more likely to fall victim to cybercrime and identify fraud than their international counterparts.

  4. Because it affects the freedom of our journalists: Under the new law journalists will no longer be able to promise whistleblowers and vulnerable sources that sensitive information will not be compromised, as the government will be able to spy on their communications. How are our journalists able to work with sensitive information or make controversial state secrets public if they don’t have freedom from surveillance?

  5. Because other countries don’t have to put up with this: Edward Snowden has called the Snoopers Charter ‘the most intrusive and least accountable surveillance regime in the West’ and he is right - no other democratic nation spies on their citizens this way. Why is Britain joining the ranks of Russia and China and choosing to abuse the privacy rights of it’s citizens for no proven national security gain?

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What can I do to stop this?

Unfortunately since the Investigatory Powers Bill has passed in both Houses of Parliament this system of mass surveillance will soon become a reality for Brits. Luckily there are some ways to keep yourself private online in order to safeguard yourself from cybercrime and the prying eyes of the British government.

The new law mentions nothing about using a VPN (such as ZenMate's) which is a type of software that can be downloaded to your laptop or smartphone and works to encrypt your data so that nobody can see what you are doing online. Since ZenMate is based in Berlin, we are bound by strict German privacy laws that ban us from sharing any of your data, meaning we will never give your information to the British government.

To find out more about VPNs head over to the ZenMate website where you can get a free 7 day trial of our Premium service.