We are all suspects now
The coalition's u-turn on internet surveillance is fundamentally illiberal and intrusive. It will do little to improve national security and everything to turn us into a nation of suspects
Today the Home Secretary, Theresa May, will announce the Coalition’s plans to introduce the Communications Capabilities Development Programme – plans that will finally announce the intention to monitor the internet use of every British citizen.
Let us be very clear. These proposals are coming from the very members of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties who in 2008, when these proposals were first made under New Labour by then Home Secretary Jackie Smith, said that such policies were illiberal, intrusive and had no place in a democratic society. David Cameron himself said “If we want to stop the state controlling us, we must confront this surveillance state.”
Yet here we are, four years later, at the very same point that seemed to appal the Con-Dems just a few years ago. So why has the Coalition u-turned on their position so forcefully?
As the law currently stands, without any new powers, the police and security services can read your emails, tap your phone, plant hidden cameras and microphones in your house and intercept your internet use. All of which can be done without any approval of a judge.
As a smokescreen the Home Office has announced the small concession of removing the ability of local councils to access Communications Data. Again let’s be clear: since 2005, there have been more than 2.7 million requests by police and other public bodies for the communications data belonging to private individuals. Of these, fewer than 10,000 requests have come from local authorities. That is less than 1 percent – hardly a concession to satisfy those concerned about our privacy and civil liberties.
If the Government wants to have a serious review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, I’d be delighted. Sadly, this isn’t a serious effort to reform one of New Labour’s most authoritarian pieces of legislation – it’s a last ditch attempt to try and sell a policy that was rejected in 2008 and has been dressed up in new clothing by the same officials that convinced Labour to go along with 90 day detention and ID cards.
No other democracy does this. The logging of every email, website visit and social media message is unprecedented in Western society and would put us in the same company as China and Iran. Not the kind of company we want to be keeping.
The Home Office are also making the assumption that this can even work in practice. The Oxford Internet Institute, LSE and Cambridge Computer Lab have all seriously questioned whether it can.
It also hasn’t been clear if there will be a system to exempt some people from surveillance. For example, MPs, foreign diplomats, and indeed security services staff will all have perfectly legitimate concerns about private companies holding huge databases about their communications.
This policy goes against the Coalition Agreement, against Conservative pre-election policy and is fundamentally illiberal and intrusive. It will do little to improve national security and do everything to turn us into a nation of suspects.
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