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UK Home Secretary defends controversial surveillance bill, says it will stop cyberbullies

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Privacy advocates and tech companies are speaking out vociferously against the UK’s new surveillance bill, but the country’s Home Secretary, Theresa May, says there’s no reason to worry. In a letter obtained by The Times, May says the Investigatory Powers Bill, as it’s called, won’t be put to use for just spying on citizens. Rather, it’ll help track down online bullies and trolls.

She described cyberbullying as a "pernicious" issue and reportedly wrote: "Internet connection records would update the capability of law enforcement in a criminal investigation to determine the sender and recipient of a communication, for example, a malicious message such as those exchanged in cyberbullying."

cyberbullying is a 'pernicious' issue

According to The Times, May was responding to a question posed by a Parliament Member named James Cartlidge, who said the bill is about more than "terrorism or hacking into bank accounts." He added that trolling and online bullying are "nasty, psychological attacks that particularly affect young people."

Although the bill, often referred to as the "Snooper’s Charter," would likely help track down cyberbullies, it would also sweep up more than enough information for complete UK citizen surveillance. If passed, the bill would require all ISPs to store records of every website visited by internet users for up to a year. This record would include the basic URL of websites they visit, as well as the time of visits and the IP addresses of other computers they contact.

Opponents of the bill will likely see May’s comments merely as an attempt to masquerade the bill as a noble cause to protect the country’s youth. Whether or not the surveillance powers are used to combat cyberbulling, May’s letter does not adequately address the serious privacy issues the bill invokes. Earlier this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook penned a letter speaking out against the legislation. He specifically called out the bill’s weakening of encryption as a problem, as well as its allowing for law enforcement to hack into users’ devices under a warrant. The committee on the Investigatory Powers Bill is reviewing Cook’s and others’ comments on the legislation and is expected to follow up with thoughts in February.