What is the Investigatory Powers Bill?

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.

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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:

ISPs will store a record of every website you visit and when, for 12 months.

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.

... and police and intelligence officers will be able to read your Internet Connection Records without a warrant.

Police and intelligence officer can read your Internet Connection Records without a warrant, as part of an investigation.

Intelligence agencies like GCHQ will be able to hack into computers to access private data.

Intelligence agencies will be able to conduct "targeted equipment interference" – this means hacking computers to access private data, as part of an investigation.

Intelligence agencies' illegal bulk collection of communications data will be explicitly made legal.

The bulk collection of communications data by intelligence agencies and law enforcement will be legalised, after previously being ruled illegal by the High Court.

Tech companies will be forced to break their encryption, to give the government access.

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.

Sounds bad. What can I do?

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.

There are many VPN providers available today, such as the popular PrivateInternetAccess, Proxy.sh, EarthVPN, and plenty more.

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.

You can also use Tor for added security, but be aware that using common technologies such as JavaScript and Flash over Tor may compromise your anonymity; Tor was previously attacked via an exploit utilising a Firefox JavaScript vulnerability – the attack on Tor was capable of exposing user's IP addresses.