George Orwell, the British author of the ultimate dystopian surveillance novel 1984, would not be pleased with the recent legislative moves of his mother country. Parliament has decided to pass a piece of legislation introduced this past November that would allow the government to record the Internet history of every citizen in the United Kingdom, all for the purpose of thwarting would-be hackers, as well as curbing cyber crime and even acts of terrorism.
Named the Investigatory Powers Bill, the newly-passed regulations would make what is known as "targeted equipment interference" (otherwise known as equipment interference or EI) legal — meaning that it would render the obtainment of data from individual computer sources by remote government hacking 100 percent licit. The bill would also strong-arm Internet service providers (ISPs) into storing said data (i.e., Web browser history and site visitation) for up to one full year.
Parliament says it's taking its cue from other countries also considering similar measures, mainly member states in the European Union. According to an official report issued by both the House of Lords and the House of Commons, in order "to give its law enforcement and intelligence and security agencies the tools to combat crime and terrorism" in a "digital world," both the UK and other EU states have are bent on "[providing] more intrusive powers for their law enforcement," even though they claim to have not taken "evidence on international comparisons to draw firm conclusions."
Pointedly, the measures come only months after a smattering of terrorists attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, which led to widespread national debates on safety concerning Internet services like public Wi-Fi and torrenting sites — and their utility in aiding terrorists in perpetrating acts of widespread violence.
There's a downside: as the Verge pointed out, the law would enable "sensitive information" — personal information about anything from religious beliefs to sexual proclivities — to be privy to the government; on top of this, the resources, manpower and storage space used by ISPs to comply with the bill would be a severely gargantuan undertaking.
Despite the support from members of Parliament, a number of opponents are speaking out against the Investigatory Powers Bill, including the United Nations, which has warned that the legislation could "ultimately stifle fundamental freedoms" like the right to privacy, as well as tech monopolies like Apple, which are concerned about possible clashes over their end-to-end encryption methods, which make messages between customers only visible to the sender and recipient.
"If you halt or weaken encryption, the people that you hurt are not the folks that want to do bad things," said CEO Tim Cook in an official statement, arguing that everyday users would bear the brunt of the legislation's possible negative effects. "It's the good people. The other people know where to go."
Other detractors include social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as companies like Microsoft, Yahoo and Google.