Posts Tagged ‘Snooper’s charter’


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.

Picture: 5pillarsuk.com

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?

Chilling.


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A senior judge at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has concluded that powers letting police and public bodies grant themselves access to people’s communications data with no external oversight or suspicion of serious criminality breach human rights law.

It is difficult to generate much interest among the public to the proposals by the government – drafted by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary – to introduce the Investigatory Powers Bill.  A few weeks ago, the country voted against staying in Europe which was interpreted by many as a protest against government and the governing class who were seen as out of touch and indifferent to their plight.  There were other matters such as immigration and the EU itself, but it was a cry by the ‘left behinds’ who are finding life, jobs and housing an increasing trial.

Yet they seem relaxed at giving the government yet more powers to pry into their lives.  Of course it is presented as a fight against terrorism and that these powers are needed to fight this ever present menace.  But, in addition to the police and security services, local councils and various government agencies such as the Food Standard Agency will also enjoy these rights.  It is hard to see how the FSA can be dealing with serious crime.  And are there half a million serious crimes a year?  That is the number of requests.

The previous act Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act [DRIPA] was introduced in a desperate hurry by Theresa May because of a previous ruling by the European Court.  This meant that there was an urgent need to introduce legislation to legitimise the high level of interception that was taking place without proper oversight.  Hardly any time was allowed for parliamentary debate.

The new law will go further and the CJEU has fired a warning shot concerning the breach of liberties.  Ah you might say, ‘aren’t we about to leave the EU so we can give two fingers to them.’  The problem is that the EU will want to ensure that we are protecting fundamental rights when the come to negotiate with us as an external partner.

The new PM is not known as a libertarian and this promises to be an interesting struggle.  We do not yet know whether the new Home Secretary will simply trot along behind what the PM left her.  So far the public has remained relaxed having bought the line that this all part of the battle against terrorism.  One day however, one or other of the tabloids might wake up and have a go in which case the mood will change quickly.

 

Souces; Guardian; Privacy International; Liberty; Open Rights Group

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Year of achievement

This has been a busy year for the group.  A prevailing theme has been the Magna Carta celebrations and weTapestry enjoyed a fruitful relationship with the Cathedral where one of the extant copies of the charter is displayed.  We organised a talk in the Cathedral by Dominic Grieve – the former Attorney General – and 160 attended to hear him speak in favour of the Human Rights Act.  Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty, spoke at the Sixth Form Conference also at the Cathedral.  We mounted a display in the cloisters and we ended the year by displaying the tapestry, assembled by members of Amnesty groups in the south region, with two contributions from refugee groups.  Another event was at the Playhouse where we hosted a discussion with Kate Allen; Prof Guy Standing and Ben Rawlence – a first for us.  The Playhouse agreed to display the tapestry ahead of it moving to the Cathedral.

Films

For several years we have held a film night at the Arts Centre and this year we managed two, the first being the documentary BastardsSet in Morocco, this moving film showed an illiterate woman’s struggles with her family and the justice system on behalf of her illegitimate son.  We were delighted to welcome the director of the film, Deborah Perkin, to introduce it.  After the showing, we asked people to sign cards for Ali Aarrass who was returned to Morocco from Spain, held incommunicado, denied access to a lawyer and tortured for 12 days.  An enquiry into his allegations was promised but has not happened.  He still seeks justice and has recently ended a prolonged hunger strike.  Campaigning for Prisoners of Conscience like Ali are a core aspect of Amnesty’s work.

The second film was Timbuktu which was timely in view of the problems with terrorism and Islamic extremism.  We are grateful for the continuing support of the Salisbury Arts Centre in this enterprise and to the many people stopped after the showings to sign cards.

Saudi Arabia and arms sales
Paveway missile sold to the Saudis

Paveway missile sold to the Saudis

Saudi Arabia formed a backdrop during the year with their continuing and increasing use of the death penalty and a host of human rights violations.  In July, we wrote to our local MP, Mr John Glen, to urge his government to take a more robust line with the Saudis.  We received a reply from him and a minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office assuring us that diplomacy was proceeding behind the scenes.  We had not long received the letter when it was revealed that the FCO had just removed references to the abolition of the death penalty from its policy.  It was also revealed that the requirement to adhere to international law and treaty obligations had been removed from the ministerial code.  We then discovered the astonishing news that the UK government had been active in securing a seat for a Saudi man on the UN’s Human Rights Council.  Together with the continuing support the government offers to sellers of arms to Saudi Arabia, this shows that claims to be interested in better human rights in countries like Saudi was a sham.  It was depressing to note the new college in Salisbury being supported by a range of arms companies.

Economic prosperity was further up my list of priorities than human rights

Sir Simon Mc Donald, head of the Foreign and Colonial Office in evidence to the Foreign Affairs sub-Committee

Our all too close relationship with the Saudi government was exposed at the end of the year when the Independent revealed details of the secret security pact signed between the two governments.  Human rights groups, the Independent reported, expressed alarm at the secretive nature of the deal with a regime which has been condemned for its human rights record.  Kate Allen, Amnesty’s Director, called it a ‘murky deal’.

Yemen

Later in the year there was a great deal of interest in Syria and the decision to bomb ISIS.  A major debateArms-Fair---share-assets-email-Sep-2015 was held in Parliament with impassioned speeches on both sides.  We noted that no such passion was evident in the case of Yemen where British arms supplied to Saudi are being used to bomb civilians and kill children.  The government remains to keen to sell arms to whoever seemingly unconcerned where they end up.  They support the annual arms fair in London and, no doubt mindful of previous revelations about the sale of torture equipment, banned a representative from Amnesty attending.

It is extraordinary that so much heat and righteous indignation is engendered by the barbaric activities carried out by ISIS, but beheadings, crucifixions, floggings and torture carried out on an increasing scale in Saudi Arabia result not in condemnation, but visits by ministers and by members of the royal family.

Good news
Moses Akatugba

Moses Akatugba

But is was not all bad news.  The Salisbury group, in common with others around the world, campaigned for the Nigerian man Moses Akatugba who was brutally tortured by the Nigerian police and forced to sign a confession to murder.  We are pleased to note that many Salisbury people signed our petitions and cards with the result (with world wide campaigning as well) that Moses was released after 10 years on death row.  This was a notable success.  Over 34,000 people around the world signed petitions.  Amnesty have received a letter of thanks from Moses describing his feelings on learning of his imminent release and describing Amnesty activists as his ‘heroes’.

Another success was the decision by the state authorities in Missouri to give Reggie Clemons a retrial.  After a long wait for a decision from the Court following the report of the Special Judge, Reggie’s conviction and sentence for first degree murder were ‘vacated’.  The Court had upheld his right to a fair trial which was all that he had sought from the beginning.  This is a campaign which the local group has been pursuing actively for many years and again we are pleased to record our thanks to many hundreds of Salisbury people who signed cards and petitions.

Locally, the group undertook two Citizenship talks, one at South Wilts and one at the Shaftesbury School.  These are popular with young people and well attended.

Death penalty

Campaigning against the Death Penalty has continued to be a major focus for the Salisbury Group.  Regrettably, there has been no national campaign coordinated by Amnesty International in London.  We hope this might change in 2016 as we have taken part in a Survey currently being carried out by HQ confirming that we would like this important aspect of Amnesty’s work to be taken up again – particularly in the light of the recent changes in the priorities of the Foreign and Colonial Office.

In the meantime, we have identified particular issues around the Death Penalty on which we have campaigned.  Throughout the year we have responded to all the Urgent Actions received in respect of individuals under threat of execution – 31 in total.  The majority of these have been for prisoners in Saudi Arabia, Iran and the USA.  We have worked on the cases of individuals sentenced to death within Amnesty’s Campaign against torture – most notably Moses Akatugba and Saman Naseem (see below), including them in letter writing, card signings and petitions, and have also continued to campaign on behalf of Reggie Clemons (see above).  In partnership with St Thomas’s Church, we held a Vigil as part of the World Day Against the Death Penalty.  This was our first such venture, and it has to be said that public support was disappointing, but the Group felt it had been very worthwhile.

One of our concerns are the numbers of being sentenced to death and executed for alleged crimes committed when children.  Countries with the worst records for this are Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan.  This issue was taken up by the Salisbury group and it was the focus of the Vigil for this year’s World Day Against the Death Penalty.  We highlighted the case of Saman Naseem, a Kurd, arrested aged 17, tortured and sentenced to death for being a member of a banned organisation.

The group continues to publish a monthly death penalty report which collects information from around the world on the use of this barbaric and ineffective practice.  At the bottom of this blog you will find other sites which provide information.  While countries like the USA, Saudi and Iran feature frequentlyy in these reports, it has to be recognised that China executes more than the rest of the world put together but keeps the statistics a state secret.

A full report on the death penalty is on a later blog.

China

This year saw the state visit by the Chinese president to these shores.  There was considerable discussion about human rights in China – or the lack of them – including the denial of free speech, the use of torture, thousands executed after brief trials and continued suppression in Tibet.  It was revealed by the Chinese media that George Osborne – who is keen to replace David Cameron as Prime Minister – on his visit to China, failed to mention human rights at all to the surprise of his hosts.  What was said to the president on his visit here, if anything, is unknown.  Protestors in London were mysteriously kept well away by armies of Chinese.  This was a clear demonstration that the current government is almost exclusively concerned with economic matters and not about human rights.

North Korea
Group campaign event, Saturday 8 November

Group campaign event, Saturday 8 November

During the year we continued to highlight where we can, the continuing state of human rights abuses in North Korea.  The situation there remains dire and the role of the Chinese is crucial.  People fleeing the country are frequently handed back to face a terrible future in a forced labour camp the condition of which are unimaginable.  They also try and obstruct efforts by the UN.  Their fear is that instability in North Korea could be the trigger for unrest in China itself.  There is now greater awareness of what is going on the country and the story has moved away from border skirmishes to the appalling human rights situation: progress of sorts.  Clip from the video made in 2014 available on YouTube The message reads ‘Close the Camps’ 

Stop torture

We have campaigned throughout the year on behalf of individuals who have been subjected to torture.  This abhorrent practice is still very common around the world with an estimated 141 countries still practising it.  This is despite signing various UN protocols to the contrary.

Human Rights Act

We have reported on many occasions the desire by the government to do away with, scrap or abolish the HRA.  Our local MP, Mr John Glen is on record as wanting this.  Part of the reason – perhaps the major part – is the continuing dislike of things European.  ‘Brussels’ has become shorthand for anything bad and for interference in our affairs and the HRA is caught up in that.  It doesn’t help that the majority of newspapers publish seemingly endless stories of dubious decisions which are the result – it is claimed – of the workings the act.  Stories about benefits for ordinary people almost never make it onto a tabloid page.

A second reason (we have speculated) is that much press activity nowadays involves the intrusion into the private lives of celebrities and politicians using hacking, buying information from the Police and other sometimes illegal means.  Article 8 of the HRA includes a right to privacy which would seriously curtail this activity.  We are currently awaiting the review of the act (promised in the Autumn) and how the government proposes to change it.  Perhaps we can be encouraged by the appointment of Michael Gove MP as Justice Minister, who has shown himself willing to overturn some of the worst excesses of his predecessor such as iniquitous court fees and banning books from prisons.

During the year we were pleased to welcome the formation of Rights Info which was established to counter the misinformation regularly pumped out by our media.  It analyses the various cases and stories which make the news and presents the facts.

Snoopers’ charter

The investigatory powers bill is currently in the report stage.  It proposes giving increased powers to the security services to intercept private messages, phone calls, Skype, emails and social media.  People are rightly concerned and fearful of terrorist activity and mostly take the view that as I’ve got nothing to hide, losing a bit of liberty is a price I’m willing to pay for greater security.  There is a trade off here: we give up some liberty and the right to our privacy to enable the security services to invade emails and the like in their hunt for terrorists, drug smugglers and people traffickers.  But we expect our politicians to exert oversight and to ensure the security services are properly accountable.  The revelations by Edward Snowden exploded that and showed that the relevant parliamentary committee had little or no idea of what was happening.  We have also noted the strange dichotomy between the publics’ distrust of politicians on the one hand and trusting them when it comes to intruding into our private lives on the other.

Peter Wright’s book Spycatcher (Viking Penguin) first revealed the inside story of the MI5 which he alleged had burgled its way around London.  More recent books such as Seamus Milne’s The Enemy Within (Verso) revealed the underside of the security services and their (successful) attempts to undermine the miners’ strike and Nick Davies’s Hack Attack (Chatto and Windus) which told the story of the media’s involvement with politicians, senior Metropolitan Police officers and the security services.  All these books, and others, show the importance of strong independent control of what these services are up to.  Unfortunately, the unholy link between some newspaper groups, politicians and the police makes achieving this very difficult.

David Davis MP with Kate Allen, Salisbury CathedralSo although we do not mind the security services penetrating terrorist cells, we might mind them listening in to solicitors discussing their client’s cases,  journalists’ phone calls and bugging human rights groups, all things they have been shown to do.  Liberty is a precious thing and we need to be ever vigilant that their activities are closely monitored and are appropriate.  With the politicians we have today we cannot be sure of this.  One of the few exceptions is David Davis MP (seen here third from left at the Sixth Form Conference at the Cathedral, next to Kate Allen) who has regularly highlighted the dangers of this bill and of the creeping nature of intrusion being planned by the Home Office.

Conclusions

This has been a busy year for us with many achievements.  However, we look forward to next year with some forboding.  The desire to promote economic interests almost at any cost and the near abandonment of overseas human rights issues is a worry.  We want to go on selling arms to highly unstable regimes like the Saudis, seemingly with no concern with how or where they use them.  Claims of ‘quiet diplomacy’ are a sham when you are promoting one of their number onto the UN’s Human Rights Council.  At home, the combination of the ‘snoopers’ charter,’ a desire to end or abolish the Human Rights Act and to curtail the Freedom of Information Act are all steps in the wrong direction.

This has been an exceptionally busy year, as the report notes. We have succeeded in holding major headlining events, around the Magna Carta celebrations, while still carrying on our usual campaigning, and keeping awareness of Amnesty high in the city, all with a relatively small activist base. Our visits to schools have been valuable in this respect too, and thanks are due to all who have helped over the last year to keep us in the public eye and assisted in the success of the achievements noted here. I would conclude by wishing our readers an supporters a happy New Year, and hopes for freedom for those we are supporting.

Andrew Hemming, Chair of the Salisbury group

We continue to be heartened by the warm support we get at signings from people in the Salisbury area.  The support of the Cathedral in this Magna Carta anniversary year has also been particularly valued.

You can follow us on Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/salisburyai

peter curbishley


 

 

 

 

 

 


Why we should be concerned

The revised Regulatory Powers bill has now been published and has been debated in parliament.  It is better known as the ‘snoopers’ charter’ and tries to put the interception activities of the security services on a sound legal footing.  The previous act, RIPA, was clearly inadequate and revelations by Edward Snowden revealed that it was being widely circumvented and ignored.

It has to noted that the public at large is mostly relaxed about the degree of intrusion into their electronic activity.  The wholesale interception of emails, phone calls, Skype, Facebook and the like arouses no great passions.  The general view can be summed up as ‘I’ve got nothing to hide so they’re welcome to look at my emails if they want to.’

The line put across by politicians is that these powers are needed to defeat the activities of terrorists; international criminals; people smugglers and the like is widely accepted and seen as a price worth paying if we are to remain safe and such people are to be put behind bars.  The paradox however is that if you ask people the question ‘do you trust politicians?’ you are likely – indeed almost certain – to receive a very dusty or robust answer.  They are seen  – often unfairly – as untrustworthy, interested in their own careers, acting as lobby fodder or simply being out of touch.  So allowing these individuals additional powers does seem to be something of a contradiction.

So what are the arguments about the Regulatory Powers Bill and why does it all matter?  First is the issue of trust to which we have already alluded.  Before Snowden, many of the same politicians were telling us that matters were under control and that warrants and searches were only used when strictly necessary.  It was then revealed that comprehensive snooping was underway and that the ministers concerned – including those on the select committee – had little or no idea of the scope of the activity.  GCHQ was hoovering up large quantities of information seemingly without any oversight.

David Davis MP with Kate Allen, Salisbury Cathedral

David Davis MP, 3rd from left

… and they still don’t.  Only a very few individuals get to see the core information since most of it is presented in terms of briefings.  This goes back to the war when the JIC was set up to look at all the information and then put it together to inform the cabinet committee.  Very few MPs have any serious experience of intelligence matters and the nature and sensitivity of the information they receive makes it difficult for them to find out.  David Davies MP says we have a ‘comforting illusion’ about our intelligence services which leads to complacency.

There is a natural tendency for all organisations to talk up the issues they deal with.  By highlighting risks it enables them to win resources in Whitehall battles and in battles with sister agencies.  This needs to be remembered when blood-curdling threat assessments are issued.

There is a belief that more is better.  By simply amassing more and more information using ever more powerful computers it is argued this will enable the intelligence services to protect us better.  The only problem is that time after time it has been found to be wanting.  The 45 minute claim is the most famous but there are others.  Only this week we read of the death of Ahmed Chalabi who misled the USA in many different ways over Iraq.  So despite the massive scale of the American intelligence system, the billions of dollars spent on the CIA and NSA, one man comprehensively fooled the State Dept. over a period of several years.

A fundamental issue at stake is one of power.  It was not so long ago, following the collapse of East Germany, that the scale of their intelligence activities by the Stasi were revealed.  Miles and miles of underground corridors existed with hundreds of thousands of files on almost every citizen in the state.  Children informed on their parents; brother informed on brother; neighbour on neighbour.  All typewriter fonts were recorded so that any typed samizdat could be traced.  It was a nightmare world of paranoia and poisoned a generation.  People in the West were horrified when this was revealed.  That was clumsy by comparison to what the agencies can do today in the internet era.  Yet we seem relaxed, not horrified.

The issue of power and who has it is central to the debate.  Our society is based on division of powers in part going back to Magna Carta.  For one group to have too much power is recognised as dangerous.  We have the Lords (however imperfect) and the Commons.  We have a separate judiciary.  We have a reasonably independent media.  These divisions prevent despotism or at least make it exceedingly hard to achieve.  In addition there are elections every 5 years.

By allowing the intelligence agencies, to pry into every communication, to intercept communications between lawyer and client; to intercept emails of human rights groups such as Amnesty and to tap into the phones of journalists, is extremely dangerous and alters the balance of power significantly.  All these things have happened.

It is also dangerous because of the frailty of the people in power.  Lord David Owen in his books has investigated the mental capacity of various leaders in times of stress particularly war.  In both The Hubris Syndrome (Politico) and in In Sickness and In Power (Methuen) he shows that senior politicians can be unstable and suffer from hubris.  This led for example, Tony Blair and George W Bush to ignore or manipulate intelligence to fit their beliefs and with disastrous results.

The thirst for power can itself be dangerous.  Obtaining it, holding on to it, fighting off those who want to take it from them, and wielding it, can be the all consuming passion for a politician.  It is for these very reasons we should be extremely wary of granting them the advantage of even more intrusion.

It might reasonably be asked however, what about terrorist activity and especially a group like ISIS (or whatever we agree to call them)?  They are undoubtedly a cruel and dangerous organisation.  But they are not an existential threat to the UK.  Even if they manage to pull off some outrage in this country, it cannot be argued that they will change our way of life.  Giving up our liberties and our right to privacy is a heavy price to pay on the uncertain promise of greater security.

Our freedoms and liberties have been acquired over many centuries and we should be extremely wary at giving them up.  Vague promises of judicial oversight – which are empty since they will only oversee the process not the actual decision – should not blind us to the fundamental risk this bill will pose if it gets enacted.  Combined with the intention of scrapping the Human Rights Act, this is something to be worried about.

Draft_Investigatory_Powers_Bill


Sources

Guardian, 9 Nov 2015 ‘We haven’t had a Stasi or Gestapo, so we are intellectually lazy about surveillance‘  Interview with David Davis MP

Shami Chakrabarti, On Liberty Penguin Politics 2015.  Discusses threats to liberty generally.

FH Hinsley British Intelligence in the Second World War HMSO 1979.  Discusses how intelligence was organised and presented during the war.


Teresa May, Home Secretary

Teresa May, Home Secretary

The government announced its fifth attempt to introduce the snooper’s charter in the Queen’s Speech a few weeks ago.  Called the Investigatory Powers Bill, it looks to be more wide ranging than was previously expected.  Most people seem to be quite relaxed about this.  There few signs of a grass roots campaign taking place and there do not seem to many letters to national papers on the subject.

In conversation people will say things like ‘if they want to listen in to me chatting to a friend they are welcome’ and ‘I’ve got nothing to hide’ is a popular refrain or they accept that it is a price we have to pay for increased surveillance of terrorist threats.  Some do not believe it possible with the millions, nay billions of emails; phone calls; Skype sessions; tweets and so forth, that it would ever be possible for the security services to do this, perhaps not understanding that it is metadata they are after.

There are few who would disagree with the need for our security services to look out for possible terrorist threats or indeed other major crime activities such as people or drug smuggling.  The justification by ministers for the need for increased surveillance has been based on the fear of terrorist activity especially after the terrible outrage on 7/7 almost 10 years ago.

At the heart of the debate is the issue of trust.  We cannot know much of what the security services do for fairly obvious reasons and this means the notion of transparency does not have much relevance.  We want to trust however that the intelligence services do the right thing to protect us.  We want to trust them to be concerned with terrorists and serious crime.  We would like to be reassured that someone is in overall control who is able to ask the relevant questions.  It is here that there is a problem: namely if you ask people ‘do you trust politicians?’ you are likely to receive a dusty answer.  The sweeping powers demanded by ministers and in turn the intelligence agencies, gives them considerably increased powers to pry into our lives.  The powers are sweeping in nature and in effect treat everyone as a suspect.

The report by David Anderson QC published this month is entitled ‘A Question of Trust’ tackles this issue head on.  There have been a succession of scandals over the years which mean trust in politicians and those at the top of our society is extremely low.  The Leveson enquiry revealed an unholy alliance between senior Metropolitan Police officers and sections of the media.  Anderson proposes that oversight shall not be by politicians but by senior judges.  Many would agree with this.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence.  UN Declaration of Human Rights

The whole issue of trust emerged on 15 June with the results of the investigatory powers tribunal into

GCHQ

GCHQ

GCHQ.  It emerged that this agency has been covertly monitoring two human rights organisations, one in South Africa and one in Egypt.  The case was brought by Privacy International, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and Liberty.  It made ‘no determination’ on whether GCHQ intercepted these latter organisations illegally.  It is left open therefore whether they (we) are being monitored and their messages being intercepted.

So while ministers talk of terrorist threats to gain support for ever widening intrusion, their agencies intercept and monitor journalists, whistleblowers, human rights groups and defence lawyers in what has been termed a ‘scandalous misuse of terrorism legislation’*.  Sir Tim Berners-Lee has observed that ‘the UK has lost the high moral ground and is doing things even the NSA weren’t’.  We need to be extremely concerned at the government’s proposals.

Sources:

Liberty; Amnesty International; The Spectator*; The Guardian