An important session of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) was carried out recently. A GCHQ witness has been offering contradictory and confusing evidence and Privacy International found the way to cross-examine him. This was an extraordinary opportunity to shed light on GCHQ´s bulk collection powers. Internet users also got the opportunity to learn how their data is being handled and how they can get protected from potential intrusions.
The S94 sneaking into your privacy
What is analyzed here is the IPT hearing related to Section 94 directions (S94). It is referred to how section 94 of the Telecommunications Act permitted GCHQ to ask for bulk communications data from ISP and phone companies.
Although this prerogative was in force since 1998, it was not until 2015 that it was widely recognized and modified. Since 2016 it was ruled as illegal by the IPT. But now IPT is trying to determine how it really worked.
A lot of evidence comes from GCHQ through a key witness to whom has been granted anonymity. For these purposes, we will refer to him as Witness X. He is responsible for many statements issued by GCHQ, but they were not accurate. Therefore, Witness X had to submit several amendments. Because of it, IPT granted Piracy International to cross-examine Witness X and this is what happened then. Piracy International went deep to determine how GCHQ work to apply S94 directions.
Understanding S94 Directive
To activate an S94 directive it was necessary to obtain a trigger letter signed by the Secretary of State for the specific case. But Privacy International had doubts it was handled this way. They considered that the Secretary of State only gave general approvals and GCHQ determined the amount of information that would be requested.
Witness X only stated it was only a technical narrow instead of a substantive. This answer did not help to clear up the situation. Privacy International´s lawyers presented other arguments. First, they pointed out the willingness of ISP´s and telco´s to accept and execute GCHQ requests because of the close relationship among them.
Witness X accepted such closeness but stated that any request was only handled through S94 directives. Secondly, Privacy International explained how times between trigger letters and authorizations given by the Secretary of State didn´t match. In fact, some trigged letters were not even sent. But Witness X refuted it all by telling they were handled in different ways.
In the end, neither Privacy arguments nor Witness X statements got clear and totally proved.
How the hearing impacts your private communications today
As the Snoopers Charter orders ISP´s to hold intact all internet users data in any given situation, you might think this information is not important at all. But internet users should take note of this and learn who they can trust. It is obvious ISP´s and telco work very closely with government and intelligence agencies and easily exchange information. It is also obvious that users can only enjoy full privacy if they access different tools to prevent such invasions.
Fortunately, there is already a tool designed to protect user´s privacy and data. It is called VPN which is also found in premium versions such as IPVanish and ExpressVPN. Both solutions guarantee that all the information will be totally encrypted. In addition, it is all redirected through external servers. It blocks your ISP from seeing your data and hides your IP Address.
It is not a secret anymore that government agencies continuously work to access your data and share it. Edward Snowden already warned the whole world about it and described Investigatory Powers Act as an evil and intrusive tool. This is why a VPN is a necessity and the only way to guarantee total privacy for British internet users.