Investigatory Powers Act gets royal assent, comes into force in 2017

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Updated, November 29: The home office confirmed on Tuesday that the Investigatory Powers Act—which avows and widens the scope for UK police, spooks, and a swathe of public bodies to spy on Brits' Internet activity—had received royal assent.

"The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes farther than many autocracies," said NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden in a recent tweet.

But the government insists that the new law "protects both the privacy and security of the public." It will come into force in 2017 when the sunset clause for the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) expires.

Original story (November 16)

It's been years in the making, but the UK government's repeated bid to massively ramp up surveillance of Brits' Web activity is about to become law.

The Investigatory Powers Bill cleared its final hurdle in the House of Lords on Wednesday afternoon, when peers agreed to stop ping-ponging a proposed press intrusion amendment between the lower and upper chambers of the Palace of Westminster.

Now that both houses have reached an agreement, prime minister Theresa May—who as former home secretary fought time and time again for a so-called Snoopers' Charter, under various guises—will see her plans to avow and grant greater surveillance powers to Britain's spies, police, and other public bodies become law.

It's a formality for the bill to receive royal assent, allowing it to be enacted into UK legislation. The Queen will simply agree and the Investigatory Powers Act will be passed with an announcement made in both chambers.

A commencement order may be brought in by a government minister, or else the law will come into force from midnight at the start of the day of the royal assent.

The law gets in under the wire, too. A sunset clause in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) is set to expire at the end of 2016, at the behest of former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. The Liberal Democrat had said at the time that his party wanted that "poison pill" on the legislation to avoid placing anything permanent on the statute book.

Ironically, the Tory government has repeatedly used DRIPA's expiration for political gain, with ministers warning that the UK would be "naked" to any national security threat without any provision in law that allowed for a communications data acquisition regime to continue into 2017.

Key passages of the Investigatory Powers Act demand that telecoms firms retain data on the Web activity of British citizens for 12 months to allow cops, spooks, and public authorities to access the information. It also explicitly states the fact that—for years—spies have routinely intercepted the bulk communications data of people in the UK.

A euphemistically-named request filter—which the home office has refused to describe as a type of database, even though it has previously told your correspondent that it allows "public authorities [to] make a complex request for communications data"—will be brought in.

However, according to independent terror watchdog David Anderson QC it might not be ready for showtime.

The home office told him in August that officials were still "defining requirements before going to design phase." He added in his review of the government's bulk powers that the request filter's "scope was uncertain, and there would be practical difficulties in bridging different formats. A prototype would have to be engineered, and a pilot phase operated."

It's unclear if these issues have been addressed yet. Regardless, your Internet use will now be heavily spied on and civil liberty warriors will be crying into their beer tonight.

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