Dark day for democracy and free speech. Government gets ‘the most extreme powers ever’
The Investigatory Powers Bill became law this week and it is a dark day for democracy, not just in the UK, but the signal it gives to the rest of the world. That one of the oldest democracies in the world should want to garner for itself, a whole set of powers to pry into peoples communications and to find out journalists’ sources is a matter of shame. It will provide increased encouragement to regimes around the world to clamp down further on their citizens.
The wonder of it is that so many people are so relaxed about it. Although over 130,000 people protested, the government took little notice.
The state needs to have a security apparatus. When the nation is under threat either in the time of war or by terror groups, it must have the means to investigate. This is likely to mean eavesdropping in some form or other.
There is also the issue of secrecy and confidentiality. People in government should have the means to discuss ideas and float policy ideas without it being published in the media – to start with at least.
Technology has provided a means now to invade individual’s private space with ease. Technology has surpassed the law in this regard. Nearly all the key technologies are operated out of Silicon Valley in the USA over which we have no control. Is it not interesting that Britain voted to come out of the European Union and one of the key reasons was sovereignty. Yet in this regard, sovereignty is in California.
The Guardian reports:
The new surveillance law requires web and phone companies to store everyone’s web browsing histories for 12 months and give the police, security services and official agencies unprecedented access to the data.
It also provides the security services and police with new powers to hack into computers and phones and to collect communications data in bulk. The law requires judges to sign off police requests to view journalists’ call and web records, but the measure has been described as “a death sentence for investigative journalism” in the UK. (29 November 2016)
The increasing ability to intercept communications has and is having an effect on free speech. It is described as having a ‘chilling effect’. Journalists working on these topics have to go to extraordinary lengths to cover their tracks. Material has to be hidden abroad for protection from the security services. Some other issues are more open to debate.
In case of war and terrorist attacks, the media quickly falls into line and the normal business of tackling government ministers is forgotten. It quickly becomes a matter of supporting ‘our boys’ and even questions of the quality of kit for example do not get asked.
The crucial issue is one of power and control. The very business of being able to pry into anyone’s private affairs gives the state enormous powers. As citizens we should expect that these powers are used when necessary; are subject to control wherever possible (like the controls on searches); are subject to close scrutiny, and are in accord with properly laid down laws. Controls on operational matters should not be in the hands of politicians who cannot on the whole be trusted with secrets of this nature. The level of intrusion should be matched by the degree of scrutiny.
As usual, supporters of snoopery will trot out the old adage that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. This is, in its most fundamental way, true. But the trouble is that as with all these moves what we are seeing is only the thin end of a very long and dangerous wedge. Most law-abiding people have no reason to worry about other people knowing what websites they have visited. But once you give the authorities the ability to do this history tells us that this ability will, inevitably, end up being abused. (Daily Mail)
In the 3 or so years that the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ has been debated, it is often stated by members of the public that they are not concerned and if the security services want to listen in to their conversations with their auntie they are free to do so – ‘I’ve got nothing to hide’ is the frequent refrain. Yet if police and security services arrived at their front door and searched their house and computer without a warrant or reason to do so, they would be outraged. Is the difference just that one is visible and the other isn’t?
Likewise, if you asked these same members of the public ‘do you trust our politicians?’ they would think you were a little mad. Yet they are happy to allow them or their agents to intrude into their affairs. The current Home Secretary is Amber Rudd and readers of Private Eye and the Daily Mirror will have read several revelations about her less than honest business affairs involving dodgy companies and diamond mines. Questions have also been asked about her tax affairs. To her, the nation entrusts its secrets.
To come of course is the promised withdrawal from the European Court and the threatened repeal of the Human Rights Act.
We have not lived in a state such as existed in East Germany, Romania or the Soviet Union where the degree of control was extreme. Thus people in the UK are not aware of the harmful effects of giving too much power to those in power.
Finally, is it even sensible in its own terms? Someone once said that hunting for terrorists was like ‘hunting for a needle in a haystack’. Is it wise then to increase the size of the haystack?
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