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Worried about the Snoopers' Charter? Protect yourself online

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 has now been passed, which means that 48 different organisations - from the Ministry of Defense to the Food Standards Agency - can now legally view your internet history, amongst other things. Unsurprisingly, plenty of people are worried about the so-called Snoopers' Charter, but many don't know exactly how it could affect them.

Firstly, it doesn't mean that you're constantly being monitored online. It does mean that web and phone companies are now legally obligated to store records of the websites that you visit. They have to keep this for twelve months, and must hand the data over to any of the 48 organisations that request it. You can't just delete your internet history, as that only destroys your copy of the data. However, there are ways you can preserve your privacy online without going off the grid.

Use a VPN

Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is one of the most practical ways users can hide their location online. The VPN effectively acts as a ''middle man'', requesting the websites you want and sending it back to you. Any websites you visit would then be attributed to the VPN itself, rather than your computer.

They do effectively hide your location and preserve your anonymity, but all that back and forth does take its toll on your internet speeds. Some sites have also taken to blocking web traffic from VPNs (Netflix, for example). Make sure you do your research before you sign up, and check the reviews and comments from other users.

Block web trackers

Even with a VPN, your data could still be collected. Even data that does identify you personally is valuable, particularly to advertisers. To stop this going through, you can get a web browser extension. This will show you all the trackers running on each website, and you can select which ones you want to block.

We'd recommend Ghostery. It's the most comprehensive tracker blocker, but it can sometimes block widgets from banks, which can prevent your online purchases from going through. You do have the option to 'pause' Ghostery, or 'trust' websites so that Ghostery won't run on those pages at all.

Use encrypted chat

If you're worried about your chat logs being accessed, we'd recommend using WhatsApp or iMessage - these encrypt your conversations at both ends, so the conversation stays between the people that are involved. Again, do your research before you sign up.

Part of the Snoopers' Charter allows the 48 organisations to legally hack into your devices, mobile or otherwise. Unfortunately, there's not much you can do here to prevent investigators getting from doing this. If investigators were to hack into your phone or laptop, they could download your data regardless of which encrypted messenger app you were using.

Don't panic

If investigators want access to your computer or device, there's very little you could do to prevent it even before the Snoopers' Charter passed. We learned through Edward Snowden that this information was being collected illegally, it is the fact that it has become legal which has privacy advocates concerned.

For personal users, you still have more to fear from cybercriminals than the government. Although we would recommend purchasing a webcam cover to protect yourself from investigators and hackers alike.

Still worried about your online privacy? Sign the petition, or tweet us @TranscenditUK


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