Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context.
2 April 2012
Today, 2 April 2012, the print edition of the Guardian newspaper published an article by Robert Booth on UK government plans to introduce draconian monitoring of private telecommunications. We reproduce in italics below an extract from it.
The chilling threat of unrestricted intrusion by UK secret police into the private lives of individual citizens conjures up the control mechanisms deployed in the totalitarian dystopia depicted by George Orwell in his novel “1984”. That novel provided much of the inspiration for the creation of this blog (see the beginning of our Mission Statement).
Readers should be aware that the current UK government consists of a coalition of the dominant Conservative (Tory) Party and its junior partner, the Liberal Democrats. The main opposition group is the Labour Party.
As readers can see from the Guardian text, both government and opposition appear to be at one in seeking a massive expansion in secret surveillance by the state of individuals’ private lives.
“SECURITY SERVICES TO GET MORE POWERS TO MONITOR EMAILS AND SOCIAL MEDIA
Ministers are to introduce a new law allowing police and security services to extend their monitoring of the public’s email and social media communications, the Home Office has confirmed.
It is expected that the new system will allow security officials to scrutinise who is talking to whom and exactly when the conversations are taking place, but not the content of messages.
Labour [when in government] tried to introduce a similar system using a central database tracking all phone, text, email and internet use but that was ditched in 2009. It followed concerns raised by internet service providers and mobile phone operators over the project’s feasibility, and anxieties over who would foot the bill.
The coalition’s proposals are likely to be introduced in the Queen’s speech on 9 May and will centre on internet service providers gathering the information and allowing government intelligence operatives to scrutinise it.
A Home Office spokesman said: “It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public.” The spokeman added that the plans would be brought forward “as soon as parliamentary time allows”.
“We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes. Communications data includes time, duration and dialling numbers of a phone call, or an email address. It does not include the content of any phone call or email and it is not the intention of government to make changes to the existing legal basis for the interception of communications.”
Civil liberties campaigners have strongly criticised the revival of the plan because of the risk it could breach the privacy of law-abiding people.“Whoever is in government the grand snooping ambitions of security agencies don’t change,” said Isabella Sankey, director of policy at Liberty.
The intention to introduce the new system was signalled in the Strategic Defence and Security Review, published in 2010. It was announced that, as part of efforts to counter international terrorism, the government would “introduce a programme to preserve the ability of the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain communication data and to intercept communications within the appropriate legal framework”.
Internet service providers have voiced concern at the plans, questioning the cost and practicality of installing systems to harvest the so-called “packet” data that shows senders, recipients and the times of messages. They are also worried that their customers would not tolerate the compilation of personal communications information.
UPDATE : the following is an extract from a report on the BBC website on 3 April 2012:
Home Secretary Theresa May said “ordinary people” would have nothing to fear. But “criminals, paedophiles and terrorists” would, she told the Sun [newspaper].
David Davis, the Conservative MP and former shadow home secretary, countered Mrs May’s argument:
“We already have a law which lets the secret services eavesdrop on suspected criminals and terrorists.
“The new law does not focus on terrorists or criminals. It would instead allow civil servants to monitor every innocent, ordinary person in Britain, and all without a warrant.
“If they want to see all this information they should be willing to put their case before a judge or magistrate. This will force them to focus on the real terrorists rather than turning Britain into a nation of suspects.”
Information Commissioner Christopher Graham’s office has said the case for retaining such data had yet to be made.
Nick Pickles, director of campaign group Big Brother Watch, called the move “an unprecedented step that will see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance seen in China and Iran”.
Conservative MP Dominic Raab said it was “a plan to privatise Big Brother surveillance” and turned every individual “into a suspect”.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
2. Das Vierte Reich/The Fourth Reich (6 Feb 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
4. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
5. What would Gandhi have said? (30 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.