Paris Attacks Prompt Possible Fast Track of UK Surveillance Bill

By Jonathan Zhou
Jonathan Zhou
Jonathan Zhou
Jonathan Zhou is a tech reporter who has written about drones, artificial intelligence, and space exploration.
November 16, 2015 Updated: November 22, 2015

British politicians have called for expediting the passage of a surveillance bill in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, which they argue is necessary to prevent similar attacks in Britain.

Earlier this month, Home Secretary Theresa May unveiled a draft of the Investigatory Powers Bill, which would greatly expand the power of British security agencies to monitor civilian Internet records and force private companies to crack encrypted data for the police.

One of the bill’s more controversial clauses would require Internet service providers to keep their customers’ browser histories for 12 months.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on BBC’s Radio 4 “Today” that “we should look at the timetable” of the draft bill. Lord Carlile, former independent reviewer of anti-terror legislation, wrote a piece in the Daily Mail saying that the security agencies needed new powers so that they can “disrupt atrocities such as the slaughter that took place in Paris.”

Proponents of the bill are pointing to the Paris attacks to strengthen their position and have implied that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden unwittingly aided terrorists in their operations by using his large social media following to rally against the bill.

“I am afraid that I have less and less sympathy with those who oppose the new surveillance powers that the government would like to give the security services.” London Mayor Boris Johnson wrote in The Telegraph.

“To some people the whistleblower Edward Snowden is a hero; not to me. It is pretty clear that his bean-spilling has taught some of the nastiest people on the planet how to avoid being caught. … I want these people properly spied on, properly watched—and I bet you do, too,” wrote Johnson.

It’s unclear what tools ISIS terrorists used to coordinate their attacks in Paris. An anonymous European counterterrorism official told The New York Times that they believe the Paris attackers used encrypted technology to communicate, but couldn’t offer specific evidence.

Still, demands for an explanation behind the attacks have stoked the rumor mills, and a mistaken Forbes report that alleged the terrorists planned their attacks using the video game “Super Mario Maker” on PlayStation 4 was widely reproduced in the U.S. media.

The author of the report, Paul Tass, told that he had misread a statement by Belgian federal home affairs minister Jan Jambon that was issued three days before that Paris attacks, who said that “PlayStation 4 is even more difficult to keep track of than WhatsApp.”

Jonathan Zhou is a tech reporter who has written about drones, artificial intelligence, and space exploration.