Plans for Increased Internet Surveillance Revealed in Leaked Documents

internet surveillance IP Bill
A protester holds a mock bugging device during a demonstration against the National Security Agency (NSA) and in support of U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden in Frankfurt, July 27, 2013. REUTERS/ Kai Pfaffenbach

The U.K. government plans to ask for powers allowing intelligence agencies to spy on people in real-time by introducing encryption 'back doors' to communications firms, according to leaked documents.

Privacy advocacy organization Open Rights Group obtained a leaked copy of the government's draft technical capability notices (TCNs) regulation, which it has published in full on its website. The document forms part of a "targeted consultation" into the Investigatory Powers Act, which was brought into law last year, meaning it has not been publicized to the tech industry or the public.

Under the proposals, all communications companies—including internet providers, messaging apps and phone networks—would be forced to provide police with real-time access to a person's web browsing with one day's notice.

"These powers could be directed at companies like WhatsApp to limit their encryption… but if the powers are exercised, this will be done in secret," Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, said in an emailed statement to Newsweek .

"The public has a right to know about government powers that could put their privacy and security at risk. There needs to be transparency about how such measures are judged to be reasonable, the risks that are imposed on users and companies, and how companies can challenge government demands that are unreasonable."

Killock previously described the Investigatory Powers Act—referred to widely as the 'Snooper's Charter'—as the "most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy. Writing an opinion piece for Newsweek last year, Killock said: "[The Investigatory Powers Act] mostly permits and codifies all the illegal practices revealed through whistleblowing and court action."

The latest proposals were also criticized by Liberal Democrat President Sal Brinton as a "full-frontal assault" on civil liberties and privacy.

"The security services need to be able to keep people safe," Brinton told technology news website The Register. "But these disproportionate powers are straight out of an Orwellian nightmare and have no place in a democratic society."