…or why it is plainly obvious that the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill is an unnecessary and disproportionate invasion into your privacy.
So, our government is proposing that your ISP – and that will include companies who are not ISP’s as we understand the phrase, like Facebook, Twitter and Apple - will have to keep your IP address, web history, the pages you visit and apps you use on your phone for a year. You know, should they want to, well, look at them.
Should you be concerned? Yes. (The bill is set out in full here.)
The boss of Apple, Tim Cook has mentioned ‘dire consequences’ (read here). Leading silk Michael Mansfield QC said that we are very close to a situation in which our “every thought is being monitored…that’s what we’re very close to” (read here) and the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation David Anderson QC said that he was “not aware of other European of Commonwealth countries in which service providers are compelled to retain their customers’ web logs for inspection by law enforcement” before commenting that there would be “constitutional difficulties” in the US and Canada (read The Open Rights Group overview here).
So, what can you do to, you know, keep your life – well – private? Will these things be ridiculous or will they end up as having to be employed by everyone of us to keep our lives private from our state?
1) Don’t do anything for a year
Brilliant. A bit like making your Christmas Pudding and letting it mature for next year. The government has asked telecommunications providers to store data for a year, so if you are going to steal Gordon Ramsay’s roast turkey recipe and circulate it as your own in your Christmas news letter and you want to avoid a knock on the door from the copyright police, look at it this year, but save it for next year’s photoshopped letter.
2) Post a letter
Although it is quite polite and proper for you to add a sender's address to the envelope unlike an electronic mail or “e” mail, there are no laws that we are aware of that require it. If you need to get information to someone else, nobody will be able to say a year from now that you – yes YOU – used that postbox to post your letter.
3) Join a sensitive profession
This is one of the areas the government says it will exercise control over more, well, sensitively.
Whilst becoming a lawyer, doctor or journalist (and let’s assume this is yet to be defined so it doesn’t simply include your award winning blog) won’t prevent you being snooped on or bugged, it will make it more difficult so we are told. Those who draft the warrant will have to be very careful not to include client, source or patient information.
Still, whilst there might be some in those professions who want to rely on the brilliant draftsmen in the police adept at doing this, others may think, for example, that if you are a journalist and you like porn, best not investigate Jimmy Savile or the whole lot will probably go on the warrant for someone else’s consumption.
So whilst we can’t say for certain that becoming a lawyer or a doctor is the best way to look at all the porn you want, it might buy you a bit of time.
(Still on the bright side you’ll never know because the warrant will be secret too.)
4) Stand for parliament
Again, this doesn’t prevent the secret service bugging you, but if you are an MP they'll need to ask the PM first: then they can bug you. Phew - thank goodness! Good thing our PM doesn’t have a reason to bypass democracy and intercept everything the leader of the opposition says in private emails, because, well you know he has different views on key national security issues like the nuclear deterrent…(err hang on?!)
5) If you might have committed a criminal offence – plead guilty
There will be no point explaining what happened to your lawyer to see whether you have a defence, or emailing them any documents. You see the government can intercept it, and then use it against you.
Quite apart from the fact that most criminal barristers we know believe most cells in most major courts are bugged in any event (although good news – they are all going to be refurbished – not for new bugs, sorry I wasn’t clear, just the paint). In any event now that legal privilege is now well and truly dead, if you tell your lawyer something, expect the authorities to know it too.
And that goes for anything you might say to a journalist – so don’t break stories of important public interest either in anything that might be intercepted. And more importantly, if you are poisoned by a Russian spy, don’t tell a doctor what you think might have happened so they can treat you - if you don’t want the government knocking on your door.
6) Access services aboard
No doubt the UK will put pressure on other countries but we imagine not all would agree to carry out the whim of foreign government hell bent on knowing your browsing history. If they do ask, it will be unenforceable.
Keep an eye out for the creation of new “white hat” data champion jurisdictions (‘white hat’ means good) which will stick two fingers up when the government wants their bulk data. (We wonder whether services are already planning to relocate given Tim Cook and other's comments.)
7) Use your neighbour's WiFi
“Excuse me, my service isn’t working and I really really need to order a pizza: can I use your WiFi password?” This may not be the best idea if you live in the countryside, but if you live in London say, you might be able to see as many as twenty or thirty hotspots and if you use different IP who will know! Of course if you then walk out onto CCTV – like the government are hoping – they’ll have you by simply using a clock to judge when you leave. Oh yes, and they’ll be able to track you across different hotspots too. Mmmm…maybe not such a good idea.
8) Use a Virtual Private Network
What’s that then? A brilliant UK school boy entrepreneur set one up from his bedroom: hidemyass.com and and turned it into a forty million pound business (read about him here on the BBC). Lots of companies have them for their employees. So, before you go on-line, you fire it up first, and everyone thinks your IP address is one in Leeds instead. But what if the Government ask him or companies like his to forward your original IP address too? Well, if they do, you make need to create you own VPN! After all, you could hardly ever be classed as your own ISP right?
9) Make your own VPN
Now we’re really into the dark arts right? Nope! And it’s not illegal. Simply follow instructions from the BBC who show you how to make one with a thirty quid Rasberry PI here.
This is what the BBC say by the way, “The websites you visit often track where you came from and watch where you head off to next. A VPN - or virtual private network - helps you browse the internet more anonymously by routing your traffic through a server that is not your point of origin.It is a bit like switching cars to shake off someone who is tailing you.”
I'm not sure the BBC had in mind that it would be the government tailing you...
10) Finally - encrypt everything
The new bill doesn't appear (yet) to ban end to end encryption, so apart from any of the above, they’ll only be able to see that you sent it, not what was in it if you use a service like WhatsApp.
So there we have it. If the government does enact this ridiculous bill, you now know what to do!