TECH

New 'Snoopers Charter' Bill Could See Google, Facebook And WhatsApp Hand Your Messages To MI5

28/05/2015 14:03 BST | Updated 28/05/2015 14:59 BST

Google, Facebook and others may be forced to hand over the messages of their users to government security agencies such as GCHQ and MI5 as part of two highly controversial bills.

The Extremism Bill and Investigatory Powers Bill were both mentioned in the 2015 Queen's Speech and contain a number of laws that would massively escalate the surveillance powers that government agencies have.

This includes forcing messaging services like WhatsApp, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger to hand over the messages of potential suspects to MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.

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Facebook-owned WhatsApp now has over 800 million active users worldwide.

At present all these services encrypt their messages to protect privacy from surveillance. However under the new laws, the government would require them to decrypt the messages and share them with relevant agencies.

David Cameron hinted at both bills earlier this year when he claimed that in implementing new surveillance powers he would have no problem banning services like Snapchat if they didn't comply.

"In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which even in extremis, with a signed warrant from the Home Secretary personally that we cannot read."

There is already an Investigatory Powers Bill that was passed in July last year, however this new Bill would include a number of key additions.

Experts have expressed major concerns that MPs won't actually be able to understand the technicalities of the issues involved.

Technology law specialist at the London School of Economics, Andrew Murray revealed that he had 'grave concerns' as to whether MPs or the public would be properly consulted over the technicalities that were being discussed.

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GCHQ and other government agencies currently can't read messages that are encrypted by Facebook and Google

Calling encrypted messaging services 'capability gaps', the government claims that not being able to see these messages is 'severely degrading the ability of law'.

Since the Edward Snowden leaks, major technology companies have made a considerable push to highlight the security of their services with Facebook and Apple.

The Conservatives have actually been pushing these new powers for some time, first appearing in the 'Snoopers Charter' that was canned by the Liberal Democrats back in 2012.

Since then the bill was cut down and introduced as the Investigatory Power Bill 2014. The 2015 bill however will work in tandem with a new version of the Extremism Bill and is expected to drastically increase the capabilities of all the UK security agencies.

QUEEN'S SPEECH 2015

In addition to online messaging services, the Extremism Bill takes things a step further, targeting all online media channels by 'strengthening Ofcom’s roles so that tough measures can be taken against channels that broadcast extremist content'.

While the government hasn't gone into specifics as yet, the Extremism Bill could potentially affect all online media outlets including Live Leak, YouTube and others.

It won't be clear what the full extent of the powers are until the first drafts of both are revealed later this year, however anti-privacy advocates have already started condemning the bill.

To try and control the backlash, Downing Street says that there would be 'appropriate oversight arrangements and safeguards' to protect from the bill being misused.

Executive director of The Open Rights Group Jim Killock isn't convinced however saying to the BBC: "The government is signalling that it wants to press ahead with increased powers of data collection and retention for the police and GCHQ, spying on everyone, whether suspected of a crime or not."

"This is the return of the 'snooper's charter', even as the ability to collect and retain data gets less and less workable."