The British government officially admitted to mass surveillance of their own citizens for the first time last week while advising it was all done without breaking any laws. The director general of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, Charles Farr, spoke of how everything from browsing history to private social media messages and even intimate yahoo webcam sessions were collected legally under section 8(4) of the United Kingdom’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). The rules permit the government agency to intercept external data at ease, or at least that’s what we are told.
Popular understanding of privacy laws is that for a government to legally spy on a citizen, it must have a court ordered warrant for any internal data interception to be allowed. External data means it would be out of the UK citizen realm, but it seems the government is playing with words and twisting the law. If they are not allowed to spy on internal communications without a warrant, than they will collect the data traveling in networks out of the UK, while they still pertain to UK citizens themselves. For example, if you send a message on Facebook from London to your mate in Birmingham, that message may need to travel on a server out of the UK before reaching the destination, allowing the government to exploit those connection points and still collect your data.
These revelations brought outcry among privacy activists and many figures have accused the government of exploiting the law behind closed doors. Many have called for RIPA to be stopped, examined and regulated on what kind of surveillance they are allowed to practice. Many critics have accused the British government of being completely unlawful in their surveillance programs and trying to use loopholes to make it seem legal.
The extensiveness of how deep they have gone into the private lives of UK citizens have startled many, as they felt no spying agency would be snooping private Facebook and Twitter inboxes, but as mentioned it covered all areas including webcam videos and emails. The current state of affairs allows the UK agency to even collect email communications from non-UK residents all while remaining ‘legal’.
What worries us most, is how world governments are slowly showing no shame at all at admitting to the public about their mass surveillance programs and how they are using citizen tax dollars to collect private webcam videos which who knows whom is getting paid to watch them and read your private messages. The government will quickly defend itself, advising the data is only massively collected to be able to search for specific suspicious activity and individuals, but since everything is done with no transparency, why should anyone believe them any more now after they lied for years.
Be safe, encrypt your data, stay off online webcam chats if possible and get yourself behind a VPN, if your privacy is at all valuable to you and your family. Cheers and happy private web surfing to all.
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