A new bill proposes to give UK spies the right to access information on smartphones and computers belonging to members of the public.
Surveillance agencies could be given new authorisation by the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill, which would enable them to conduct a broad range of electronic surveillance.
The new bill is expected to be enforced in a matter of weeks, says The Times – although currently the only basis for the analysis provided by the newspaper is an unnamed source and the Queen’s speech, which introduced the concept in May.
According to the Queen’s speech, the Investigatory Powers Bill should “address ongoing capability gaps that are severely degrading the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies”, as well as to “modernise our law and ensure it is fit for purpose”.
The bill will function as an update to the 1994 Intelligence Services Act, which grants spies rights to interfere with ‘property’ but does not extend to computers or hacking due to its age.
Updates to the bill will now include legal permissions for spies to perform “equipment interference”, such as taking control of “computers, servers, routers, laptops, mobile phones and other devices”, according to The Times’s source.
It is reported to also give spies permission to access all documents, photographs and communications stored on the devices in question, as well as use the camera and microphone to record suspects without the user’s knowledge.
Peter Sommer, digital evidence expert, said intelligence agents were struggling to read internet communications “because of encryption”.
“[Intelligence agencies’] ability to get information from interception is rapidly diminishing,” he told The Times. “The best way for them to get around this is to get inside someone’s computer. This is an increasingly important avenue for them.”
While the concept of the Investigatory Powers Bill is unpopular with privacy campaigners and civil liberties groups, Renate Samson, CEO of surveillance watchdog Big Brother Watch, said that it would be difficult to pass judgement on the bill without the specific details of what it proposes.
“It poses quite a lot of concerns and questions that need to be answered before it should ever be made law,” she told Business Reporter.
“The public need to engage and ask questions about what it means for the government to potentially be able to hack into their machines.”
Photo © UK Ministry of Defence (CC BY-SA 2.0). Cropped.