The Investigatory Powers Bill (or Investigatory Powers Act 2016), popularly known as the "Snooper's Charter", is a controversial piece of UK legislation. Passed by both Houses of Parliament in November 2016, it is now awaiting Royal Assent before becoming law.
Opposed by privacy campaigners, tech companies, the Internet Service Providers' Association, the National Union of Journalists, the Society of Editors and many others, it gives the UK government sweeping surveillance powers unheard of in a Western democracy.
Described as both "terrifying" and "the most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy", the Investigatory Powers Bill creates a number of unsettling new surveillance powers:
Communication Service Providers (CSPs) will be forced to retain "Internet Connection Records" (ICRs) for every UK customer for 12 months. This contains all the websites you have visited and when, but won't include the particular pages visited.
Police and intelligence officer can read your Internet Connection Records without a warrant, as part of an investigation.
Intelligence agencies will be able to conduct "targeted equipment interference" – this means hacking computers to access private data, as part of an investigation.
The bulk collection of communications data by intelligence agencies and law enforcement will be legalised, after previously being ruled illegal by the High Court.
UK-based CSPs will be forced to backdoor their encryption, so the government can request access. Forcing companies to break their end-to-end encryption fundamentally undermines the Web. Furthermore, CSPs will be forced to assist intelligence agencies in their bulk communications collection.
To stop the Bill? Nothing. It needs only receive Royal Assent – a formality – before becoming law. It received comparatively little media attention, despite widespread opposition.
But if you want to protect your own privacy – prevent your ISP from being able to save your browsing history and stop the government from monitoring your every communication – the easiest and best option is to use a VPN, which encrypts your traffic and tunnels it through the provider's network, hiding your online activity.
One of the VPN providers already having made plans to combat the IP Bill is PrivateInternetAccess (costing around $3.30 or £2.70 per month, paid yearly). Check out our simple step-by-step guide to installing and setting up PrivateInternetAccess here.