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Agencies refusing to say how they will use new internet spy law

By Jonny Bell

Published 28/11/2016

The PSNI, Stormont departments refused to say if they will use new powers which will allow them to view the internet browsing history of members of the public
The PSNI, Stormont departments refused to say if they will use new powers which will allow them to view the internet browsing history of members of the public

The PSNI, Stormont departments and Northern Ireland Office have refused to say if they will use new powers which will allow them to view the internet browsing history of members of the public.

The Investigatory Powers Bill, which was all but passed into law last week, forces internet providers to keep a full list of internet connection records (ICRs) for a year, and make them available to government and agencies if required.

ICRs serve as a full list of every website that people have visited, not collecting which specific pages are visited or what's done on them, but the site someone visited and when.

And the PSNI, Stormont departments and arms-length government bodies could gain access to those records.

We asked the police, the Department of Justice and the Department for Communities - which were all listed as being able to check your browsing history once the Bill becomes law - how they would intend to use the powers, if at all.

Only the Department of Justice responded. It said we should contact the Northern Ireland Office on the matter. It, too, did not respond.

When the powers are introduced only senior officials in each organisation will be allowed to access the records. In the police, any viewer must be an inspector or superintendent, for instance.

The Government has worked to continue to pass the Bill, despite objections from companies that the legislation is not possible to enforce and would make customers unsafe.

Recent House of Lords agreement means it just awaits Royal Assent, at which point it will become law.

The main objections to the Bill centre around vast new powers the Government is given to spy on citizens.

It includes powers to force companies to make their phones less secure so that they can be listened to by spies, and others that would allow the Government to ask companies like Apple and Google to help them break or hack into phones.

Critics say it gives the UK perhaps the most extreme spying powers in the developed world.

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