As the Government is about to monitor all emails, websites visited, phone calls and texts, times, dates and to whom, should we care?
Why should anyone be bothered? Surely it’s just another excuse for a paranoid government to pay anoraks to sit in disused aircraft hangars sifting through gigabytes of garbage for nuggets of our digital dross.
Perhaps we should put this in context.
Typically, governments ask for these powers years after they’ve been doing it anyway. But it’s not draughty, disused aircraft hangars they use, it’s state of the art facilities like Menwith Hill, near Harrogate, and GCHQ Cheltenham.
It’s even made it into folklore: the “Echelon” of the Bourne series, is very real and the name for the main information system that Menwith runs.
Menwith intercepts pretty much all electronic traffic in the northern hemisphere. In real time. Cheltenham takes the UK specific data and Maryland NSA gets stuff the US flags. All of it is trawled through by dedicated computer systems which make ours look like they’re used to play Tetris.
Any reasons to be concerned?
The Leveson Inquiry is into whether any journalists hacked phones or paid police officers for people’s private numbers. Obviously both are illegal. The practice has cost the privacy of the Dowler family, Hugh Grant, and many others. It’s cost a whole newspaper and Rebakah Brooks’ job, with more to come. But it is also against the law to give out someone’s private number without authorisation. Senior police officers and Murdoch journalists continue to be implicated.
The EU Commission wants it
The Data Retention Directive, 2009, requires member states to monitor all communications traffic, information on all emails, phone calls and texts, to whom made, for a year. Those countries that remember state surveillance have rejected the data retention laws. The UK doesn’t. It’s been rejected by Germany, Czech Republic, Germany, Romania, Cyprus and Hungary. Plus, there are four other countries which won’t even consider data retention in the first place: Sweden, Greece, Ireland and Austria.
So you’re happy with a Stasi Britain?
East Germany had a world famous police force. The Stasi would spy on not just anyone, but everyone. Neighbours were encouraged to spy on each other and report anything of interest no matter how trivial. The Stasi built up huge files on everyone. This legislation allows that to happen here, automatically, on everyone. It’s like having a bug in every living room to be turned on or off at some official whim. Get involved with the wrong person, wrong group, go to the wrong website at the wrong time and you could be in trouble, in jail, in prison, tortured, dead. Who sets the parameters on who is a problem? Terrorists? Unoinists? Climate campers? Students? UK uncut? Occupy? Mass surveillance has had effects on other countries. Imagine Hitler coming to power with this technology. Or what if you were left-leaning during McCarthy America. Or homosexual in Iran?
Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 had a retired guy who called Bush a moron at the gym. A day later, the FBI turned up at his door! Don’t think it will happen here? Why make it easy for them? Oppose it. Privacy and freedom go together.
China and Iran
Blocks access to a very large number of websites in order to control its people. Iran’s government company TCI has a near monopoly on telecoms including web traffic. It’s easy to surveille people. Human rights groups report many cases where these powers have been used against dissidents. A new deal with China has recently given Iran a major upgrade in monitoring technology.
Violates human rights
The right to privacy is a human right. Still happy to make a gift of your privacy to big, unaccountable government? Your family’s? Your friends? The ubiquitous surveillance of every human being is not compatible with fundamental rights. The right to privacy is like being able to sit at home without the police raiding your house! You wouldn’t want a cop peering over your shoulder watching everything you write, wherever, to whoever. They are not allowed to do that, by law. Would you want them to be? The web powers already exist but only with a warrant. Why throw away that safeguard of having a magistrate assess it? Why create a law, whereby whether we agree or not, they can monitor all our calls and emails – just like that? Not long ago similar snooping powers were briefly the right of council officials too. Just who will be able to watch your communications? And why?
It’s not proportional
Registering everybody’s communications, just because some tiny fraction may come in useful in some later criminal investigation, is not proportional. The police are already successful. Crime is dropping in Britain. If you consider our prison population – the highest rate in the EU bar one – we need fewer powers not more! We need a people’s state not a police one.
Hasn’t Britain enough police powers already?
We have the most CCTVs per head in the world. Too many. We have ANPR that can track vehicles on main roads, automatically, spotting cars without insurance. We have any number of creepings along the road to a much more pervasive controlling state – a DNA database, ID cards, etc, will all make their comeback. Police have lots more powers about how to police demonstrations, or whether they can happen at all.
So be bovvered.
Even if you think that you have nothing to hide – doesn’t mean the state won’t think that you have.