(credit: Mike Birkenshaw)

Any law that forbids citizens from revealing what the government gets up to, or from speaking out about what they find, needs to be looked at with a very hard stare indeed. Yet that’s where we find ourselves with the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, aka the Snooper’s Charter.

As Glyn Moody and George Danezis point out, the draft bill effectively makes it a crime to reveal the existence of government hacking. Along the way, the new law would also make it illegal to discuss the existence or nature of warrants with anyone under any circumstances, including in court or with your MP, no matter what’s been happening. The powers are sweeping, absolute, and carefully put beyond public scrutiny, effectively for ever. There’s no limitation of time.

Forget for one moment the wisdom of giving such powers to anyone and placing them outside the main system of law, as part of normal civil life. Ignore the chance that anyone within the security services or government or other authorised agencies might use this to cover up bad actions, either their own or those of someone else who’s been doing embarrassing things. Such things are bad and inevitable, but that’s not the worst part.

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The Snooper’s Charter would devastate computer security research in the UK