For UK residents, online privacy has become somewhat of a rare commodity. So much so that the recent monitoring measures put in place by the UK government were branded as the “most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy” by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.
A strong statement. However, Snowden’s notion is hard to argue with when you take a closer look into the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) and how ministers are planning its expansion after they recently published a draft statutory instrument outlining their new plans.
The Investigatory Powers Act
The IPA, otherwise referred to as the Snooper’s Charter was agreed upon by both Houses of Parliament and passed into law at the end of 2016, giving the government and other public authorities the power to randomly monitor, record, and sometimes even hack into your personal data and communications.
In other words, if you’re a UK resident, this more or less removes your right to online privacy. The passing of this unprecedented law means that all internet service providers must keep a record of every single website you visit for a year.
To make matters worse, the law also obliges internet service providers (ISPs) to decrypt their data as per the government’s demand, which gives public authorities the power to effectively hack into your computers, mobile phones, tablets, and just about anything else that’s connected to the internet—pretty scary stuff.
As you might expect, the charter was met with a considerable backlash; however, despite the clear public disapproval, UK ministers have since gone on to advocate the expansion of the surveillance laws. If approved by the parliament, the act would be amended to include several more public authorities, giving them the power to obtain private communications data through a warrant without the subject of the warrant ever knowing about it.
What’s the big deal with privacy?
Of course, there is the argument that acts such as the IPA are passed to protect national security and investigate serious crimes. However, the lines between national security and privacy must be tread lightly.
It’s important to remember that privacy is a fundamental human right and is recognized as such by the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and many other international and regional treaties.
However, after a high court challenge on the Investigatory Powers Act, Lord Justice Singh and Mr. Justice Holgate came to the conclusion that the law does not breach the Human Rights Act 1998, meaning that UK citizens are left exposed to the blatantly totalitarian surveillance measures.
How to protect yourself with a VPN
Most people agree that their private information is better off kept private, yet with acts such as the Snoopers Charter in place, how does one go about protecting themselves from such a large scale national surveillance program? Enter the VPN.
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a tool you can use to give yourself online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. This enables you to send and receive encrypted data, which subsequently protects you from online snooping, interference, and censorship.
How does a VPN work?
When you sign up with an internet service provider (ISP), all of your activity is monitored at their servers. They know when you’re going online, what you’re looking at, and can even look into your private communications. Of course, they aren’t allowed to do this without reason; however, with the Investigatory Powers Act, more and more public authorities are becoming empowered with the ability to request this information without you even knowing it.
A VPN works by routing your internet connection through your chosen VPN’s private network rather than opting to go through your internet service provider. In other words, when you transmit your data to the internet, it comes from the VPN and not from your ISP.
This means that if the government or any other public authority attempted to snoop into your private communications, they wouldn’t be able to as your connection to the proxy is encrypted, and there is no way they can decrypt it. All you need to do is find a privacy-focused UK VPN, install it on your device and remember to keep it on at all times.
With even more threats to UK online privacy lurking around the corner, ensuring you use a VPN at all times is becoming a necessity. Additionally, VPNs give you the ability to access websites that are banned due to government censorship enforced by ISPs such as the BT Group, EE, Talk Talk, and Virgin Media.
If you use one of these providers, you will not be able to access sites such as The Pirate Bay, Kickass Torrents, Afdah, Putlocker, First Row Sports, and other streaming sites. However, you can access them safely and securely, thanks to a VPN.
All in all, there are plenty of benefits to enjoy while using a VPN, with very few downsides, which makes them a no-brainer for UK residents searching for more control over their online privacy, especially after recent talks of expanding what was already considered an extremely heavy-handed surveillance program.