Did you catch the BBC news on April 1st 2012? Did you read the article on the BBC news website? Did you read the follow up article the following morning (02/04/12) It’s also widely reported today online and in the press (see footer for links)
Once again the government is proposing to monitor all of our online and telephone activity.
While they say that it’s just a record of who talks to who and not what is said, it is also a record of all of our online activity.
What is being proposed is that internet companies such as ourselves, or the carriers we use, will be obliged to give the intelligence agency, GCHQ, access to communications in real time.
I personally still believe this is too much, and that state monitoring of all of our online activity and all of our communications without a court order is a step too far.
If a crime is suspected or evidence needs to gathered then monitoring of our communications, even if it isn’t the actual content should, in my opinion, require a court order – somebody should have to stand up in front of a judge and state why this is required.
Of course it’s all in the name of “protecting us all” and I’m sure we’ll be told that “if we have nothing to hide we have nothing to fear” but then I’m sure that this has been said in China, the former Soviet Union, and dictatorships around the globe. I’m not comparing the UK to a dictatorship, but hopefully you see where I’m coming from.
Of course we don’t live in a dictatorship, we live in a democracy and in a democracy we all have the right to vote. We have the right to contact our MPs and ask them to vote against any such measures and I strongly advise you to do so. You can find your MP at the following web site http://findyourmp.parliament.uk/
Anyone who has ever witnessed an abuse of power will be well aware of the danger into which we’re sleepwalking. We are already the most camera monitored country in the world. UK authorities have cameras everywhere that monitor our movements. Facial recognition software, retrofitted into even older systems, picks out who we are and and logs it. Numberplate recognition systems record our movements in cars. When I travel to Manchester from our head office, my car is logged as it travels past cameras along the way and a computer somewhere records that journey.
While my cellphone is on, the authorities are able to pinpoint my location even if I’m on foot. Were I to be arrested, even if I was to be released later with no charge having been found to have done nothing wrong, my DNA could be taken and stored permanently. A profile of my very being.
All of this is done without my consent and without me breaking a single law or (as far as I know) without being suspected of breaking a single law.
Now the authorities want to know who I call, who calls me, who sends me email, who I mail. They want to know what web sites I visit, what I read. Who I talk to.
This should be of great concern to us all, but I fear that people will do nothing. When it comes to standing up for our rights we are quite an apathetic nation. It seems we are happy for those in power to do what they will without any protest.
The last time I remember the nation being united in protest was about the poll tax in the 80s. Such was the strength of public opinion the government of the day had no option but to change it’s plans, although sadly some of these protests did descend into riot. We still had the council tax as a replacement but it was arguably much fairer.
Protesting these days is much harder of course as other laws seem to have slipped into being without opposition. You are advised to apply for permission to protest and if you want to strike you need to hold a ballot and then provide notice.
While I know there are good reasons for this and some of the changes to the law, they are examples of freedoms we have already surrendered; The right to trial by jury in some cases was another freedom surrendered, with new proposals for even more jury trials to be scrapped being proposed. Hard fought by our ancestors and enshrined in the Magna Carta that can be put aside now, and a trial can be heard without jury, in secret, without any public knowledge that it ever took place.
I have also been dismayed at the access requests we’ve received from the police in recent years. Previously an access request in connection with an investigation would have been made under the RIPA act under which there was a framework under which information could be requested.
In recent years we’ve seen an increase in general requests from police forces that include a statement from an officer that says “It is my belief that failure to provide the information requested would obstruct me in the course of my duties”. The inference is quite clear – In other words, if we don’t hand over the information requested then we/I could be charged for obstruction.
I imagine by now that you get the impression I’m quite passionate about this. I am. I make no apology for it. Sadly I’ve also seen abuse of power first hand. I’ve seen what can happen when a corrupt official or body has their way. It happens. Sadly too often.
So when the right of another person or group can be imposed on me without my having any say is abhorrent to me. Call me naive if you will, but we are each born naked and in my view equal.
How another can then determine that they have the right to monitor what I say or do, who I talk to, where I go is something I find outrageous. It’s always dressed up in the name of “protecting our freedom” and when I’ve raised it in the past the same old argument of “what do you have to hide” is trotted out.
Don’t get me wrong. I strongly believe in the the rule of law. I believe that we must all be law abiding citizens and that we should all respect the rights and beliefs of others and conduct ourselves according to standards of common decency and those as enshrined in the law. What I don’t believe is that we should be monitored just in case we don’t.