Currently, the Government Communications Headquarters, despite a benign-sounding name that could indicate nothing more than a press office, is believed to have the most extensive electronic surveillance and intervention capabilities of any global spy agency, surpassing even those of the American National Security Agency.
The draft of the Investigatory Powers Bill (↗), first announced in November 2015 by UK Home Secretary Theresea May, responds to concerns that were raised by the disclosure of the broad extent and depth of electronic surveillance by whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
The bill, however, is not properly characterized as a defense of liberties under common law, but rather a legislative implement to further enable and legitimize the kinds of activities that are already taking place. According to its front matter, it will, if enacted:
“Bring together all of the powers already available to law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies.” (Emphasis mine.)
While this is, in itself, controversial, the draft also contains provisions to:
Ensure those powers are “fit for the digital age” and thereby “restore capabilities that have been lost as a result of changes in the way people communicate.”
The draft makes reference to a capability named equipment interference: as written now, it targets devices which connect and communicate via the internet, and provides the ability to remotely access its hardware and download its contents.
The draft, if made law, allows the security services to compel manufacturers to engineer backdoors in any IoT-enabled device when served with a warrant.
As the BBC recently reports, this could mean anything from the ubiquitous laptop to a “child's toy.”