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Rapid Response Team: 0800 559 3500
Switchboard: +44 (0)203 947 1539
Rapid Response Team: 0800 559 3500
Switchboard: +44 (0)203 947 1539


Author: Syedur Rahman  28 March 2017
4 min read

Surveillance across the UK has reached such a point that the authorities can now gain access to personal data without any evidence to support their investigation. This is in line with the recent Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which came into power at the end of last year.

The Act, with increased data collection policies, is said to be the most invasive security measure the UK has ever seen – and yet, for all its seriousness, it was passed with barely a batted eyelid in response.

What are the main points of the Investigatory Powers Act?

  • The UK government will provide better resources and technology to facilitate the "interception of communications" - which, here, means more sophisticated hacking and intelligence acquisition tools without any restriction.
  • To ensure better "acquisition and retention of communications data, bulk personal datasets and other information" - the UK government will push tech companies to hand over customer data to intelligence agencies.
  • To establish an Investigatory Powers Commissioner and other judicial commissioners and make provision about material obtained - led by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, a team of officials will be put in charge of suspicious material

According to a recent survey conducted by Rahman Ravelli, more than three quarters (76%) of the UK public are not aware of these latest surveillance measures, what they mean for their human rights, how they affect their day-to-day lives or the steps they should take if they are ever suspected of wrongdoing.

To prevent these crucial issues becoming grey areas, Rahman Ravelli has produced a comprehensive guide on extreme surveillance techniques in the UK, and how you can protect yourself.

Who is affected most by police surveillance techniques?

The survey above shows a worrying lack of awareness across the board. From CEOs of multi-national firms to professionals of all ages, human rights are important. But for those aged between 18-24, there is a particular cause for concern.

81% of young adults (or ‘millennials’) proved to be unaware of any changes made to UK surveillance measures.

This is surprising given that those in this category are internet natives; more likely to be more active on social media and, therefore, familiar with digital technology. This indicates that more could be done on these channels to spread awareness of the changes and the issues they raise.

What does the Investigatory Powers Act mean for you?

With such far-reaching changes made to surveillance in the UK, it’s imperative that we are as informed as possible and get to the heart of what government jargon really means for us. Here, Rahman Ravelli breaks down the integral orders of the Act.

Companies will retain customers’ browser history

One of the main conditions of the Act dictates that internet and communications service providers must store top-level information about UK citizens’ browsing habits for a period of 12 months. It is because of such far-reaching measures that the Act has earned itself the moniker of the ‘Snooper’s Charter’.

With this in force, a little under 50 authorities – from the Met Police to the Ministry of Defence – will be able to build a detailed picture of individuals according to their browsing history. With the help of internet connection records (ICR’s), intelligence agencies will gather information based on the websites we visit rather than the specific web pages or what is done on them.

Google and Microsoft are just two of the large-scale corporations that have spoken out against the Act, claiming that storing vast amounts of information could have “far reaching implications – for our customers, for your own citizens and for the future of the global technology industry”.

If you are a business-owner, CEO or are otherwise responsible for the data retention policies at work, then this is something you will encounter. It pays to be informed and to ensure that your processes with the UK authorities are clear and well-communicated.

More sophisticated tools and resources to obtain intelligence

The term ‘equipment interference’ is used by the Act’s writers to describe the way security authorities are now able to hack into computer systems, handheld devices and networks. These are methods that have existed for some time, but the Act has bolstered them.

As a result, this is the first time the authorities have had unrestricted powers to access personal data without needing to alert the owners. For such severe changes, the UK response has been somewhat subdued.

The official petition to repeal the Investigatory Powers Act garnered around 2,000 signatures, but was promptly thrown out by The Petitions Committee. If the UK public are disillusioned, it comes as little surprise.

The petition stated:

“With this Bill, they will be able to hack, read and store any information from any citizen’s computer or phone, without even the requirement of proof that the citizen is up to no good.

“This essentially entitles them to free rein of your files, whether you’re a law-abiding citizen or not!”

What is covert surveillance?

Covert surveillance has changed significantly and, as methods become more intrusive and better armed, it is vital that it is matched with an informed, prepared approach.

The term ‘covert surveillance’ means to procure intelligence on an individual without their knowledge, or consent. To ensure that these methods are conducted judiciously, the Home Office produced two Codes of Practice - the Covert Surveillance and Property Interference and the Covert Human Intelligence Sources, both introduced in December 2014.

These set out the detailed procedural rules that must be followed to have each type of surveillance properly authorised.

As well as these codes of practice, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) came into force in July 2000, on the same day as the Human Rights Act. There is little coincidence here, as activists fought to protect civil liberties and human rights in the face of enforced surveillance techniques.

That was seventeen years ago, however. Now, with increasingly sophisticated smartphone technology and hacking devices, RIPA needed an overhaul made relevant to modern day threats.

Types of covert surveillance

To ensure you are fully in the know, Rahman Ravelli has compiled the main covert surveillance techniques used by UK security authorities. An in-depth article on police surveillance techniques was recently published, which you can read here.

Directed surveillance

This is surveillance in its most physical form. An example of directed surveillance would be to ‘tail’ someone, or to take photographs of a suspect.

Intrusive surveillance

Here, this refers to surveillance methods conducted on residential premises or within a private vehicle. The authorisation required for intrusive surveillance is higher, given its more invasive nature.

A covert human intelligence source

This is an individual who builds a personal relationship with another person in order to obtain certain details or information that could be crucial to an investigation.
 Intercept warrants

Considered the very highest level of intrusion, an intercept warrant is authorised only by a very small number of senior officials.

What should I do if I suspect I am under surveillance?

If you suspect that you may be on the receiving end of one or more of the above methods, get in touch with an expert legal team without delay. The quicker you act, the better armed you are to mount a defence.

If human rights in the UK are to be protected, an informed, prepared approach must evolve as quickly as the laws that are passed. Without response, the authorities gain the upper hand.

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Syedur Rahman is known for his in-depth experience of serious fraud, white-collar crime and serious crime cases, as well as his expertise in worldwide asset tracing and recovery, international arbitration, civil recovery, cryptocurrency and high-stakes commercial disputes.

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