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NIO and Home Office 'working closely' on law which will allow government to view your internet history

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 Northern Ireland Office has said it is working closely with the Home Office ahead of the introduction of a law which will allow government agencies, like the PSNI, to view everyone's internet history.

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.

Those lists - which details the websites people visit - will then be available to a large number of government bodies such as the Stormont Departments, public organisations and the PSNI.

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 (NIO) on the matter.

Initially the NIO did not respond. However, this was down to a technical error on its part.

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

In a statement it said: "The Investigatory Powers bill will apply throughout the United Kingdom including Northern Ireland. Once Royal Assent is obtained, implementation will commence in stages beginning with those aspects of the bill that will replace the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (DRIPA) which currently provides the lawful basis forcommunications data retention in the UK.

"The Government will set out the timetable, which will be subject to detailed consultation with industry and operational partners, in due course.

"The Northern Ireland Office is working very closely with the Home Office to ensure that implementation of the other relevant aspects of the bill, including the establishment of the Office of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, is successful."

More: Your entire internet history to be viewable by PSNI, taxman, DWP and Food Standards Agency and other government bodies within weeks

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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