If there is one thing our Government does well its courting controversy. Couple that with how there seems to be a constant disregard for how their half baked proposals will inflame the public and you have another recipe for political disaster, or at least a U-turn, for now.
Yes, I’m talking about the powers to monitor our web activity, emails, phone calls and visits to the lav. Last week Theresa May, writing in The Sun, started the fire when she claimed the Government needed powers to monitor every aspect of our digital lives in order to help the police and security services track criminals, terrorists and presumably any MP downloading porn during work hours.
Naturally this inflamed the public, civil liberty groups and even some MP’s. Nick Clegg moved quickly to put the fire out stating that such legislation would be published only as a draft and would be omitted from the Queen’s Speech. Comments were made about not wanting to rush anything through parliament and big Dave stated: “It’s essential we get this right. Yes to keeping up with modern technology. No to a snoopers charter.” Phew.
Apparently Whitehall insiders believe the policy is now in disarray. But let’s not be hasty, the Government usually finds a way to re-package a plan and send it back out again. I believe such monitoring already happens in America, I’ll receive letters if that not true, but I believe it does. So, why not here the Government thought?
As I stated Theresa started the fire when she wrote in The Sun last week… “Looking at who a suspect talks to can lead police to other criminals. Whole pedophile rings, criminal conspiracies and terrorist plots can then be smashed.”
She continued…”currently online communication by criminals can’t always be tracked. That’s why the Government is proposing to help the police stay one step ahead of the criminals.”
In affect Mrs. May was proposing that internet providers store billions of pieces of data for up to two years; the Home Office estimated the scheme would cost around £2 billion over 10 years. Mrs. May eased the fears of the man on the street by stating that ‘ordinary people’ would not be targeted, and it is presumed that warrants would be required to access such data.
However, when we see other countries around the world fighting for the democracy we enjoy in the UK, doesn’t this announcement leave a somewhat sour taste in the mouth. Synergies to Orwell’s 1984 may be somewhat premature, but it’s easy to see why comparisons are being drawn. Is mass surveillance on a country wide scale just a vote away in the commons? As a society have we become so hidden behind our digital selves that we would stand back and let this happen? Albeit with the mandatory signing of an e- petition (remember they’ll probably store your details in case they need them later on down the road).
Indeed, earlier this week previously confidential papers from the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham were released in which he raised his concerns. In storing so much data Graham commented that this would be a “step change in the relationship between the citizen and the state”.
The civil liberties group Big Brother Watch has naturally been disgusted by these events and has started an e-petition (told you), twitter topics and online campaigns.
For now though the deadly duo of Nick and Dave have poured a little water on the surveillance fire. But it is still smoking. The monitoring of the internet, digital devices, security and the freedom and privacy of the individual are huge issues that are not going to go away in the digital age.
There is no doubt that the police and security services are well behind the curve in how they use technology to help them catch and prevent criminal and terrorist activities. But there is also no denying that there is a raging force that is the individual’s right to their own privacy. Whether though, if it came to it, as a society, would we make too much of a fuss if such a piece of legislation came into operation, is another matter. ..