A Petition to Repeal the 'Extreme' UK Spying Bill Just Hit Its Target

Parliament will now consider debating the issue.

Getty Images / Jack Taylor

A controversial U.K. spying bill, described by Edward Snowden as “[legalizing] the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy,” has hit a wave of public opposition. A petition on the British government’s website to repeal the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill has reached the threshold of 100,000 signatures that requires parliament to consider debating the issue, pushing way past the 10,000 signature threshold that requires a written government response.

“A bill allowing UK intelligence agencies and police unprecedented levels of power regarding the surveillance of UK citizens has recently passed and is awaiting royal assent, making it law,” the petition reads. “This is an absolute disgrace to both privacy and freedom and needs to stop!”

The bill, which passed the House of Lords earlier this month, gives the government the power to retain users’ top-level browser history for up to a year, while also granting the power to force private companies to give up their encryption secrets. It’s received widespread criticism from human rights campaigners and security experts, who criticize the government’s overreach into the population’s private lives.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the petitioners will get their wish, in part because the bill passed very recently with minimal opposition. At the bill’s second reading in the House of Commons in March — where the general principles of a bill are approved by the elected members of parliament — the bill passed 281 in favor with 51 against, with 318 not voting. At the third reading in June, where committee scrutiny of the bill is taken into consideration, the bill passed 444 in favor with 69 against, with 137 not voting.

The petition argues that, as the bill has yet to receive Royal Assent, where the queen approves the bill into law, it’s not too late to repeal. The monarch is unlikely to act, as the process is largely a formality, leaving any action to repeal in the hands of the government. Nonetheless, the petition’s success shows that campaigners won’t go down without a fight, and there’s a large number of supporters that agree the bill should not come into force.