If the UK referendum to leave the European Union hasn’t caused enough of a stir, the British Parliament’s decision to install Theresa May as the new Prime Minister is almost sure to add fuel to the growing fire. While most Americans may not be too familiar with May, she has been more than a little controversial in the UK in recent years.
During her time as British Home Secretary, May introduced or backed several bills and measures that were received by the public less than favorably. One such bill is the so-called “Snoopers’ Charter,” which would provide sweeping powers to the government and essentially allow police and law enforcement agencies to spy or monitor citizens in ways never before imagined in the UK. The bill is so divisive and incendiary that Internet industry experts and privacy advocates have dubbed May the “villain of the year.”
May pushed for passage of the Snoopers’ Charter (which was officially called the Investigatory Powers Bill) not once, but twice. However at the time, the likelihood of the bill passing was low due to existing EU laws and policies governing privacy which would have essentially made the UK bill moot. Now that the UK will be exiting the EU, though, groups like “Don’t Spy On Us” and other privacy advocates are worried that Theresa May may have free reign to push her anti-privacy measures through.
Privacy advocates argue that if May is allowed to follow through with her Snoopers’ Charter agenda, the UK would be in the same league as China and Russia when it comes to its citizens’ privacy. According to an Independent interview with Open Rights Group Director Jim Killock, the Investigatory Powers Bill would provide police with powers “that even then the most autocratic and unfree countries do not have.”
It is uncertain when the UK will begin the actual legal process of leaving the EU. However, if May continues to push for stricter surveillance and monitoring in the UK, privacy advocates and netizens may find themselves at the forefront of a new battle to remain in the European Union sooner than many had hoped.