Mass surveillance came in under the Tories, with ‘state of the art’ CCTV footage on the streets, but it was embraced with open arms under Blair and strengthened after 9/11, when the US ‘anti-terrorism policies’ led to snooping on a grand scale. It was like Blair’s Government not only watched with envy, but attempted to do even better with their surveillance on British citizens.
Today, and even after local authority cuts, I believe that the UK is still covered with more CCTV cameras than anywhere else in the World. They can track our every move. And even when the cameras are unavailable, the GPS on our mobiles does the job for them.
Mass surveillance is something that you imagine a totalitarian right wing government subscribing to, but that isn’t necessarily so.
The authoritarian nature of government in the Blair years was one of the reasons I, as a socialist, felt increasingly disenfranchised.
A PM who insists on taking the country to war, despite huge public outcry and strong evidence contrary to the reasons for the war in the first place, affirmed my misgivings.
Couple this with the strengthening (rather than abolition) of Thatcher’s trade union laws and the post-9/11 strengthening of the forces of the state against public assemblies, together with the loss of clause 4, plus the many measures put in place to tell families what to do, rather than actually helping them, and it seemed to me that Blair’s government was in no way supporting working class people and their rights to speak out and organise against injustice. Rather, it was seeking to control them.
To me, it seemed that a government that insisted on controlling the very class who historically supported them was not to be trusted to support their voters when it came to fair treatment in the workplace, or when it came to peaceful protests of any description.
But the ‘importance of surveillance’ argument carried on, and there were further discussions on how to ‘control’ information on the internet (always given as ‘ways to ensure public/family safety’).
I believe it was during Brown’s short premiership that laptops were given to poor families so that they too could have access to the world-wide web. These were the laptops given to school children whose parents were on a low-income and, on the surface, it seemed like a great idea. However, these laptops came with many blocks to places you were not ‘allowed’ to browse (not just ‘adult’ sites – many students were unable to access sites they needed to complete their homework and their parents couldn’t use these laptops to pay a bill, or visit their bank account, and FB and Twitter were definitely out).
Savvy parents found an ‘IT friend’ to help them permanently delete the blocking software; others simply threw the laptop away, or sold it on eBay to another unlucky customer.
This was a short-lived and not very successful attempt to control internet access under the guise of ‘safety’, but, some might say that suspicions about the ideas behind the ‘free laptops’ may have been correct….
And, although by now more and more people were getting worried about the implications of mass surveillance and the way it could be used against ordinary people, this implication that ‘we need strong surveillance for our own security and safety’ has prevailed as the overriding argument to oppose anyone who objects.
And even today, if anyone raises their head above the parapet and complains about increases in surveillance, they are likely to be met with the argument: ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about’, and if you go on complaining, you can be made to feel like ‘the enemy’ – ‘what have you got to hide then?’ is likely to be the (sometimes unsaid) question. So many prefer not to complain at all.
Of course, the Tory Government, returned in 2010, was never going to cut back on mass surveillance, despite some ‘libertarian’ claims from a few in their midst. No, what the Tories had (in coalition and now on their own) was a ready-made system of population control, backed up with laws passed and experiments already undertaken.
It fitted right in to their plans to make things even harder for the majority, with new bills on trade unions to control them completely, and with legislation they could put in place in case of mass public protest.
But what the present government still struggles with is control of information via the internet. They can certainly try to monitor individuals and group suspects, but when they carry out legislation that will leave most of the population extremely angry, they face the prospect that all these people could be suspects! And it is not that easy to monitor everyone!
So, on 7th June ‘the Snoopers charter’ was placed before Parliament…
This is a description of the bill by The Canary:
‘On 7 June a bill passed in parliament that threatens the fundamental rights of everyone in the UK. But it seems that only around 25% of the population is aware of its existence, giving MPs the opportunity to take an axe to our autonomy largely without our knowledge.
‘The Investigatory Powers (IP) bill, more commonly known as the Snoopers Charter, passed through its latest stage in the commons by 444 to 69 votes.
‘Privacy is indeed at the heart of the IP bill, but it will destroy privacy rather than protect it. It is designed to secure immense surveillance powers for the UK’s security services, and other public bodies. The proposals include allowing bulk interception of communications, bulk collection of communications data – meaning ‘metadata’ which is essentially the data about data – and bulk equipment interference – aka hacking.
‘Indeed, ‘bulk’ gathering of information seems to be a major point of the IP bill. As Bella Sankey, Director of Policy for Liberty, explains:
This Bill would create a detailed profile on each of us which could be made available to hundreds of organisations to speculatively trawl and analyse. It will all but end online privacy, put our personal security at risk and swamp law enforcement with swathes of useless information.
‘As The Intercept has recently reported, even the UK spies themselves have warned that collecting too much information is dangerous. The publication released a secret report from the UK’s security service, which stated that MI5:
can currently collect (whether itself or through partners …) significantly more than it is able to exploit fully… This creates a real risk of ‘intelligence failure’ i.e. from the Service being unable to access potentially life-saving intelligence from data that it has already collected.
‘The IP bill aims to put these deficient data practices on a statutory footing, to legitimise them. But many argue that targeting specific communications, rather than scooping up information on everyone, is a better way to fight crime. It would also ensure that most individuals retain the liberties afforded to them under multiple human rights conventions.’
See the full article by the Canary here.
Now, you may think that Labour Members of Parliament would oppose this bill. It is not only extremely flawed, it also attacks our human rights on several levels.
And after all, isn’t the Labour Party opposing the Tories’ attempts to change our access to human rights, by opposing the extremely suspect Tory-proposed ‘British Bill of Rights’?
But of course, you only have to look back at the recent history of the Labour Party to realise that this wouldn’t necessarily be the case…
However, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, with his strong belief in human rights, I was hoping that there would at least have been a virulent opposition to ‘the snooper’s charter’ and a good debate among Labour MPs about whether or not to support it.
But this didn’t appear to be the case…
Three parties did vote against the bill: the SNP, the Green party and the Liberal Democrats.
But many Labour MPs appeared reasonably happy to vote for the bill as long as concessions were made, including ‘a privacy clause’ and protection for trade unions from being targetted. They also received assurance that there would be a ‘double lock’ on warrant approvals.
However, they did not challenge the ‘mass surveillance’ part of the bill, and yet that is at the bill’s core.
Knowing the history of recent mass surveillance in the UK and the strong support from recent Labour Governments for this, although I am dismayed to learn that Labour MPs allowed this bill to pass ‘in principle’, I am sadly not surprised.
Now, I know that the Labour Party are deeply involved in getting a ‘Remain’ vote right now in the EU referendum, but that can be no excuse for taking their eye off the ball with this bill.
It is draconian. It will be used to target individuals, even if trade unions are considered ‘safe’, and it will be used to target protest groups and protest posts.
And that’s not even to mention the way that mass surveillance of the UK population, once a shady business or the work of commercial search engine ‘algorithms’ with ‘privacy clauses’, is now being legitimised for state use.
Surely, as a Corbyn supporter I should be dismayed, not to mention disappointed….?