The Investigatory Powers Act 2016, also known as the Snooper’s Charter is perhaps one of the most controversial pieces of non-Brexit parliamentary activity, we have seen this year. It was introduced to parliament by the now Prime Minister, Theresa May, and the Right Honourable Earl Howe, gaining Royal Assent on the 29 November 2016.
The Act was implemented in order to reinforce existing and establish new, powers of the government, in relation to the interception and retention of the communications, and internet history of Britons. This has, for obvious reasons, caused controversy. Opponents of this controversy argue that the Snooper’s Charter enforces a ‘big brother’ society, is an invasion of privacy, and will not be effective. With the “No #SnoopersCharter” Campaign stating “mass surveillance is ineffective in preventing serious crime”. This is supported by statistics from the US, which showed that mass surveillance played a role in just 1.8 percent of terrorism cases, and accounted for just 1.2 percent of FBI tips. Computer scientist Ray Corrigan also pointed to the ineffectiveness of surveillance writing – “Even if your magic terrorist-catching machine has a false positive rate of 1 in 1,000—and no security technology comes anywhere near this—every time you asked it for suspects in the UK it would flag 60,000 innocent people.” Many people also see the cost as an issue, reaching £1.8bn.
These arguments are counted by the supporters of the Act, who state that in an era of ISIS, and other threats, the British Government must step forward, and protect its citizens any way that it can. They point to research from Haifa University’s Gabriel Weimann, who found that the number of terrorist websites increased rapidly over the 10 years, from less than 100 to more than 4,800 in 2007. This number has continued to increase since then. Professor of Defence Analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School, John Arquilla has stated that, to terrorists, the internet’s “greatest advantage is stealth”. The supporters of The Investigatory Powers Act state that the act addresses this issue, and decreases the anonymity available to terrorists online.
It is easy to see the arguments for both sides, and as the Act has only been in effect for a short time, its effectiveness, and intrusiveness, remains to be clearly seen.