TECH

Investigatory Powers Bill: This Is What Spies Can And Can't Do Under New 'Snooper's Charter'

04/11/2015 15:27 GMT | Updated 04/11/2015 15:59 GMT

The Investigatory Powers Bill has finally arrived in draft form. At nearly 300 pages long it is a complete unification of the current surveillance laws.

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It is one of the most comprehensive pieces of surveillance legislation and will give the government and its security agencies unprecedented access to data about our lives including our browsing activity and the communications on our phones and computers.

Justifying these increased measures Home Secretary Theresa May said:

"Powers to intercept communications, acquire communications data and interfere with equipment are essential to tackle child sexual exploitation, to dismantle serious crime cartels, take drugs and guns off our streets and prevent terrorist attacks."

The bill has been the subject of huge speculation including both the reach and severity of the powers from some claiming that it could even lead to the government banning encrypted communications services like WhatsApp and Apple's iMessage.

To cut through the noise we've highlighted the main rumours surrounding the bill and the truth:

Will The Government Be Able To Ban WhatsApp? Fiction

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No, the government has no plans to ban encrypted services. For one thing they're far too prevalent, secondly they're used and loved by almost the entire UK population and finally almost all of them are US-based, making it a legal nightmare.

Then of course there's the simple fact that even if they wanted to try and force companies like Apple to remove encryption, they wouldn't. Ever.

Can Spies Read My WhatsApp Messages? Fiction

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No, the government can't read the words you type within WhatsApp, at least not officially.

That's because WhatsApp, iMessage and other communications services use something called end-to-end encryption. It was believed that the government would try to ban this but no such ban has been included in the draft. It's not clear if this also relates to messages that could be downloaded via remote hacking.

Can MI5 And MI6 Hack My Phone? Fact

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Yes. There is now a legal requirement for domestic Communications Service Providers to assist in "giving effect to equipment interference".

What that means is that companies based in the UK will be legally obliged to help the security services bypass any protections already in place on your phone or computer and then access the information and even download it.

As the bill states: "Equipment interference encompasses a wide range of activity from remote access to computers to downloading covertly the contents of a mobile phone during a search."

Who will protect us from it? Well all requests will have to go through both judicial approval and that of the Secretary of State.

Can Spies See My Browsing History? Fact

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Again, yes they can. Internet Service Providers will now be required by law to keep your browsing history stored for up to 12 months.

To be clear, it won't include the specific websites you visit, instead it'll be a record of the domains that you have visited. So instead of seeing this page's URL, the security agencies will be able to see www.huffingtonpost.co.uk.

Are MPs And The Communications With MPs Considered Safe? Fiction

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No. It had originally been believed that the Wilson Doctrine would protect MPs and the conversations had between them and their constituents from government snooping.

This is no longer the case. Instead MPs and their communications can be monitored just like everyone else, however with a much higher level of safeguard.

Most of these new proposals require only the approval of either the Secretary of State or an independent judicial commissioner. However, the new bill will allow the interception of MPs communications but only with the approval of both the Prime Minister himself and a judicial commissioner.