Snooper’s charter and political manipulation

27.11.2014 - Silvia Swinden

Snooper’s charter and political manipulation
(Image by Eugen von Blaas: The Eavesdropper)

The “Snooper’s charter [Communications Data Bill] has practically zero chance of becoming law, say senior MPs. Labour’s Tom Watson and Tory David Davis say Guardian revelations mean data communications bill is probably doomed” read the headlines in a June 2013 Guardian article. “The chances of [Home Secretary] Theresa May reintroducing her “snooper’s charter” communications data bill are practically zero in the wake of the Guardian’s disclosures on the scale of internet surveillance, leading Tory and Labour civil liberties campaigners have said.”

Dead a buried? Hardly

At present the UK police and security services can access personal on-line data but they are not the only ones. There are 600 public bodies that can also do so, including local authorities and the Royal Mail for a wide range of purposes that go far beyond tackling serious crime and terrorism, including the extremely broad “economic wellbeing” of the country and a catch-all “any other purpose the secretary of state prescribes”. The proposed legislation goes some way to regulate this, but at the same time it states for the first time that emails are part of the information that the companies will be required to hand over.

Following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich last year at the hands of a Muslim extremist there was an attempt to revive the Bill in Parliament (although security services had not considered that the man should be put under surveillance) but it found great opposition. Teresa May is coming back with the Bill though, pretending that it could have avoided the gruesome killing of Lee Rigby, if only internet providers had detected his killer’s threat. In fact the latter had posted his intentions in Facebook, and his accounts had been closed – picked up by an unmanned algorithm but not communicated to the Police.

“The claim by parliament’s intelligence and security committee that an unnamed internet company should entirely shoulder the blame for failing to prevent the terrorist murder of soldier Lee Rigby is as outrageous as it is wrong-headed. It really is a case of shooting the messenger. The accusation by the ISC chairman, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, that the company is providing a “haven for terrorists” because it is not routinely monitoring the content of every exchange that takes place over its networks is not far off a 1920s home secretary blaming the telephone for spreading Soviet Bolshevism.” The Guardian

A famous TV sketch by Spitting Image depicted Margaret Thatcher and her team busily spying on telephone conversations. Then she stated: “Nobody can say this is a Government that doesn’t listen to its people”.

The right to privacy has not been very high on governments’ agendas for a long time, but trying to whip up support for the Communications Data Bill by taking advantage of the understandable public outrage at the manner of the killing (the soldier was hacked to death in a public London street) and the fact that the would be killer had posted on Internet belongs in the chapter of opportunist political manipulation that makes any pretence of Democracy a complete fiction. The fight against terrorism cannot be won by increasing the sense of alienation of a particular community or by playing the blame game on incidental participants. Only a nonviolent and coherent foreign policy and integration of all cultures and ethnic groups cohabiting in this country will create the chance of peace.

Categories: Europe, Human Rights
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