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Computer scientist live-streams the websites he visits to explain new U.K. surveillance law

November 12th, 2015 at 10:30 PM
Chrome Extension Internet Browsing Surveillance

Legislation that would force Internet service providers to store more data about their customers’ browsing habits, as well as ban encrypted devices including the iPhone, is currently being discussed in the U.K. where the government is looking to expand its powers when it comes to surveillance programs. To show what kind of information the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill would offer secret agencies, one developer created a Chrome plugin that records all the sites you visit.

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Developed by Liverpool John Moores University senior lecturer in computing Brett Lempereur, the plugin records plenty of information about the user including the device used and the exact webpage that was accessed. Lempereur even set up a special website where the data is live-streamed.

Under the Investigatory Powers Bill, ISPs would have to collect similar data and make it available to law enforcement. Furthermore, this browsing metadata would be stored for 12 months.

“This is an attempt to show the amount of information that will be available about you without and with a warrant if the new Investigatory Powers Bill comes into force in its current form,” Lempereur said.

As Wired points out, the plugin shows exactly what domains Lempereur visited, including Gmail, YouTube, Google APIs, Facebook, and others (see top image). Under the new law, ISPs would only collect the domain the user visits, not every page belonging to it. Even so, the amount of information about each user would be impressive, offering precious information about a user’s preferences and browsing habits.

“Their browsing habits and their personal preferences can be identified, for example how much pornography they have viewed. I have certainly been self-censoring what I have been viewing,” he added. The computer scientist also acknowledged that he censored his browsing exactly because he knew his plugin was recording the information.

“Surveillance on this scale would have an impact on people’s behavior on the internet,” he said.

The Chrome extension currently works on computers and won’t collect any browsing data originating from a mobile device.

Chris Smith started writing about gadgets as a hobby, and before he knew it he was sharing his views on tech stuff with readers around the world. Whenever he's not writing about gadgets he miserably fails to stay away from them, although he desperately tries. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

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