It is still possible to protect your privacy from the government. Here’s how to do it


Do you have any idea who’ll be able to look at your browsing history soo?

After the Snoopers’ Charter – sorry, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 – receives Royal Assent, your web history for up to a year will become available to almost 50 police forces and government departments. They’ll be able to see which sites and internet messaging apps you visited and used – but won’t know which pages you saw.

Police and intelligence agencies will be able to hack into your computer and access its data, and can order Communication Service Providers (CSPs) to help them with this – and it will be an offence for a CSP or an employee of one to reveal that your data has been requested.

Here’s the list of organisations that can view your history, courtesy of this site:

  • Metropolitan police force
  • City of London police force
  • Police forces maintained under section 2 of the Police Act 1996
  • Police Service of Scotland
  • Police Service of Northern Ireland
  • British Transport Police
  • Ministry of Defence Police
  • Royal Navy Police
  • Royal Military Police
  • Royal Air Force Police
  • Security Service
  • Secret Intelligence Service
  • GCHQ
  • Ministry of Defence
  • Department of Health
  • Home Office
  • Ministry of Justice
  • National Crime Agency
  • HM Revenue & Customs
  • Department for Transport
  • Department for Work and Pensions
  • NHS trusts and foundation trusts in England that provide ambulance services
  • Common Services Agency for the Scottish Health Service
  • Competition and Markets Authority
  • Criminal Cases Review Commission
  • Department for Communities in Northern Ireland
  • Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland
  • Department of Justice in Northern Ireland
  • Financial Conduct Authority
  • Fire and rescue authorities under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004
  • Food Standards Agency
  • Food Standards Scotland
  • Gambling Commission
  • Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority
  • Health and Safety Executive
  • Independent Police Complaints Commissioner
  • Information Commissioner
  • NHS Business Services Authority
  • Northern Ireland Ambulance Service Health and Social Care Trust
  • Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service Board
  • Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Regional Business Services Organisation
  • Office of Communications
  • Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland
  • Police Investigations and Review Commissioner
  • Scottish Ambulance Service Board
  • Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission
  • Serious Fraud Office
  • Welsh Ambulance Services National Health Service Trust

The same site adds that bulk collection and storage will also create an irresistible target for malicious actors, massively increasing the risk that your personal data will end up in the hands of:

  • People able to hack / infiltrate your ISP
  • People able to hack / infiltrate your Wi-Fi hotspot provider
  • People able to hack / infiltrate your mobile network operator
  • People able to hack / infiltrate a government department or agency
  • People able to hack / infiltrate the government’s new multi-database request filter

None of the above are likely to have your best interests at heart, and experience indicates that a major security breach will happen sooner, rather than later, “assuming, of course, that the powers that be manage not to just lose all of our personal data in the post.”

What’s to be done about it?

Well, according to The Guardian, not an awful lot. For a start, you can’t hide from the security services, and if they want to hack your devices, they will. But then, if they’re not out to get you, there’s no reason to behave as though they should be. Inconspicuousness could become the order of the day.

The paper advocates Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which encrypt traffic between computers for a small monthly fee. Your service provider can’t see the final destination so its records should contain only the VPN company’s server addresses.

Apparently, when choosing a VPN, you should check the number of servers and where they are located, their privacy policies, the applications they support (Tor, BitTorrent etc), speed and price. Some have applications for different devices – Windows, MacOS, iPhone, iPad and Android.

If you are trying to avoid Snoopers’ Charter-related surveillance, choose a VPN that is not UK-based, and that does not keep any logs – because then they can’t hand them over to the government. TorrentFreak keeps an updated list of “which VPN services take your anonymity seriously”: The Best Anonymous VPN Services of 2016.

Some VPN providers accept payments by dozens of different methods including Bitcoin and anonymous gift cards – but a VPN cannot guarantee access to any particular website; Netflix has taken to blocking most VPN services, and problems may arise with Google’s geolocation, PayPal’s fraud detection software, and so on. And a VPN doesn’t protect you from phishing emails, keyloggers, and websites that try to install “drive by” malware.

Your web visits may still be logged – in your own web browser history and dozens of advertising services, including Google’s. You can block trackers with a browser extension such as Ghostery or the EFF’s Privacy Badger, but note that Privacy Badger only blocks trackers from third-party sites. GRC has a “forensics” page, which checks whether you are being tracked by cookies.According to the Graun: “For increased privacy, you could access the internet from a “virtual computer” loaded in your operating system, and then throw it away after use. VirtualBox is a good free example. VMware Workstation Player is also free for non-commercial use.

“This may be the only way to avoid being tracked by “browser fingerprinting”. This is when the tracking company (or government agency) gives your PC a unique identifier based on variables such as screen resolution, browser version, extensions, fonts, timezone and so on. If you use a virtual PC, every session starts with a more-or-less generic fingerprint. It may not be perfect, but it’s less identifiable than the alternative.”

Will This Writer be doing any of the above?

No. Or at least, probably not.

It’s a lot of hassle for someone who doesn’t actually break the law – even though I might say things the government would prefer people not to know.

But it’s good to know what the options are, just in case. Right?

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  1. shawn November 24, 2016 at 2:30 pm - Reply

    And if you are a law abiding citizen and use them the powers that be will have to use a lot unnecessary resources checking people’s private details for no benefit. Depending upon your own point of view that could be a good thing or a very bad thing.
    I would also add that most system performance ‘boosting’ related software now has an internet tracking cleaning function (i.e. it erases your browser cache and tracking cookies automatically). The Freedom Software Foundation is a good source for information, news and software about this sort of thing; though it’s a bit techy, and not really for novices.

    • Head November 24, 2016 at 3:32 pm - Reply

      What about the “Tails” operating system, which runs from a memory stick or DVD and leaves no trace on your hard disk? It uses “Tor” as the browser.

      I’ve heard even Tails and Tor is not 100% secure.

    • elethio November 24, 2016 at 5:06 pm - Reply

      Any VPN recomendations?

      • shawn November 25, 2016 at 7:30 am - Reply

        Hi elethio, you could try betteret.

      • Martin November 25, 2016 at 8:23 am - Reply

        The Scandinavian browser Opera offers a free VPN.

        Like all browsers it’s free and cross platform.

        Or you can use the TOR obfuscating browser, also free, but because of the way it routes data packets can’t be used for multimedia or bit torrent.

        For a cheap Virtual Private Network check out the German anti-virus company Avira’s Phantom VPN.

        Why? Well because Germany has better data privacy laws than the UK and most other countries and so will mask you browsing more securely. You can try before you buy.

        And there are even cleverer ways to evade scrutiny on the dark web by using purpose built software which I am sure serious criminals and terrorists will exploit to the full.

        The stupidest thing about the snooper’s charter is that the only people it will affect will be innocents and the stupid. Anybody savvy with the internet will remain anonymous.

    • ASD November 24, 2016 at 6:25 pm - Reply

      You don’t understand. Running a bit of cleaning software on your PC is not going to strip the site logs/IP address held by the ISP. You need to use a VPN where you connect to a box which then itself goes to the rest of the web, they only know you are using it not where it’s been. Even then you want to avoid ones in the likes of Australia, US and UK has the courts can send legal demands to get logs if they happen to keep them.

    • timeless November 24, 2016 at 10:21 pm - Reply

      still it wouldnt surprise me if these new laws were used to keep tabs on activists and such, pages like these could end up under more scrutiny.. one point of interest for many will be the DWP having access… makes me wonder if it will be used to keep an eye on ppls jobsearch, l can see ppl walking into the job centre and being sanctioned because they havent been doing enough online job search according to internet records.

      and lets not forget these new rules are supposedly to catch terrorists, but all this will achieve now is normal ppl being caught for small things and as previously stated more surveillance on activists who quite likely be picked up before any protests happen because now all those terrorists this law is supposed to catch are going to use even harder methods of communication to track..

  2. Dave Rowlands November 24, 2016 at 2:43 pm - Reply
  3. Joan Edington November 24, 2016 at 6:21 pm - Reply

    If everyone starts using VPNs to hide behind, the government will find a way to make their use illegal and bar them. That would put paid to many of us who use them to access services from abroad. Although not strictly lega because of regional rights protection, I don’t see how I am morally wrong for streaming amazon videos, that I have paid for by subscribing to Prime, or iPlayer programmes that I have paid a TV license for, just because I happen to be on holiday in Spain.

  4. Barry Davies November 24, 2016 at 6:38 pm - Reply

    For the life of me I can’t imagine why 75% of those bodies would have any need to be able to track you anyway.

  5. Thomas November 24, 2016 at 7:53 pm - Reply

    How long until they let insurance companies look at people’s computers too, I wonder?

  6. Christine Standing November 25, 2016 at 1:05 am - Reply

    Thanks. Good article. Regarding, “It’s a lot of hassle for someone who doesn’t actually break the law”. I agree but it still isn’t trustworthy. Laws can arbitrarily change the definition of what is a terrorist; Jews weren’t breaking any fundamental laws when they were rounded up. How about euthanasia for the demented? Gypsies? Religions? We’ve seen it before; we are failing to learn to lessons of history. I feel powerless, as if I’m watching an oncoming tsunami.

    • toocomplex4justice November 25, 2016 at 5:13 am - Reply

      We said”never again” to this behaviour so don’t worry because the UN is there to make sure it doesn’t happen by writing a nasty letter to the government to ignore

  7. Doc Sausage November 25, 2016 at 8:53 am - Reply

    The latest Opera browser comes with a free VPN. Highly recommended.

  8. tellthetruth1 November 25, 2016 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    You’re only powerless, Christine, if you do nothing. I appreciate this fourth warning on this page.

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