Stephen Glover, Daily Mail
October 16, 2008
We live at a time when many of the certainties taken for granted by our parents and grandparents are being destroyed under our very eyes.
Even in the socialist Seventies, no one imagined the Government could control not one, not two, but three High Street banks. Our forefathers also believed, with some justification, that Britain was the freest country in the world.
Unlike some Continental nations, let alone those in the Soviet Bloc, we did not have a large state apparatus spying on people’s private activities.
However, since 1997 New Labour has progressively undermined this assumption.
We have more CCTV cameras than any other country in the world. Our DNA database, which comprises four million people, many of whom have committed no crime at all, is also bigger than that of any other country. Identity cards are in the pipeline.
Even so, I am dumbfounded by proposals unveiled by Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, in a speech yesterday.
The Government is considering creating one vast database which will contain details of every single e-mail and telephone call, mobile or otherwise, made in the United Kingdom.
Every call you make, every visit to an internet site, every e-mail you sendÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â -Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â all will be logged and stored in some vast Government computer, if Ms Smith has her way.
If this had been proposed ten years ago, no one would have believed it. Even now, after ten years of creeping surveillance by an authoritarian Government, it seems incredible.
The Home Secretary envisages a society more spied upon than communist East Germany was under the Stasi, and potentially more watched over than George Orwell’s nightmarish society in his novel 1984.
That is what I mean about the speed of change. None of our treasured assumptions holds true.
A Labour Home Secretary can propose changes which offend against the values our grandfathers held dearÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â -Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â and for which, in part, they foughtÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â -Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â without any apparent sense that she is flying in the face of hundreds of years of history, and certainly without the smallest indication of shame or sign of regret.
How did this come about? The Labour Party may have traditionally harboured fellow travellers and communist sympathisers who had no difficulty with the concept of overweening state control.
But it was also a party of liberty and freedom. For many years, while in opposition, Labour voted against the Prevention of Terrorism Act in Northern Ireland.
Whether it was right or wrong in that case, it was steadfastly opposed to the state assuming exceptional powers to deal with terrorism. [Ed. Note - Does this sound eerily familiar to the takeover of any of Canada's traditional parties?]
All that is dead and buried. Labour is now the party of state control, and its traditional love of freedom is restricted to a few maverick backbenchers whose views are ignored by the hierarchy.
Its old veneration for individual liberty has gone the way of Nineveh and Tyre.
Maybe the party’s Stalinist leanings were always stronger than we thought. Maybe it has succumbed to the nexus of spooks and security freaks that lurks at the heart of Whitehall.
What is in a way even more shocking is that most of us do not object very much. In the Sixties, students demonstrated, possibly a little hysterically, against their academic records being held on file by universities.
Even under present arrangements, the Government can find out which phone calls we have made, and which e-mails we have sent, going back one year, which is a far more onerous form of supervision than a few innocuous files.
And yet, like bovine subjects in a science fiction fantasy who have been schooled into docility by the authorities, we scarcely let out a whimper of complaint.
I understand, of course, that we face a threat from extremist Islamic terroristsÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â -Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â the true extent of which it is impossible to evaluate. Special measures have to be considered.
But they should not include a form of surveillance over the private lives of perfectly law-abiding individuals which is open to abuse by the state.
Would it not be preferableÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â -Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â and more consonant with the principle of individual libertyÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â -Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â if foreign-born suspected terrorists could be deported from this country?
And can’t home-grown suspected terrorists be surveyed and watched without all of us being subjected to intrusive surveillance that is bound to be abused?
We can be certain it would be. Jacqui Smith foresees the powers being used to help track down suspected terrorists and criminals, but before long details of our e-mails and phone calls would fall into the hands of other servants of the state whose responsibilities have nothing do with the prevention of terrorism or crime.
At the moment, believe it or not, the authorities launch bugging operations against 1,000 people a day.
In the last nine months of 2006, 253,557 applications were made to track phone calls, private correspondence and other communications, the great majority of which were granted.
Most of these had nothing to do with terrorism or crime. Some 800 agencies, including nearly 500 councils, have the right to snoop on our e-mails.
It is true that Ms Smith does not envisage the state being able to read the contents of our e-mails, or listen to our calls, without a warrant. It is clear, though, that under present arrangements a warrant is easy to obtain.
The monitoring of our private communications by various agencies of the state that already takes place would become easier once intimate information about all of us was held in a single permanent database.
And then, of course, we can be sure that some official would leave a laptop or data stick, containing the details of millions of people, in a pub.
Even if I believed the Government had the right to hold such dataÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â -Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â which I obviously don’tÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â -Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â I would have no confidence that civil servants who have lost computer disks concerning the tax affairs of 25 million citizens could be trusted with information about our private communications.
Earlier this week, the Government was forced to back down over its Bill to extend the period which suspects can be held without charge from 28 to 42 days.
Though the Lords should be congratulated for defeating the measure, the powers, had they been approved, would have affected only a handful of people.
By contrast, Ms Smith’s proposals are much more pervasive since they would affect all of us.
I don’t want my e-mails routinely inspected, or my phone calls listened to, by someone sitting in Cheltenham GCHQ, and I am sure neither do you.
I don’t want to live in a country where that is possible. It would not be the country of our parents nor the one our forefathers fought forÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â -Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â nor the country that we were told, when we were children, that we were blessed to live in.
We already live in a fledging Stasi state, and we should fight to ensure we do not live in a fully fledged one.
If Jacqui Smith gets her database, the terrorists will have won. They will have destroyed our values and our conviction, old-fashioned but still worth cherishing and defending, that individual liberty is of pre-eminent importance.
This is not a warÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â -Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â I mean the one against ever greater surveillanceÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â -Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â which those who believe in a free society can afford to lose.
Source | See Also: UK Security services want personal data from sites like Facebook | RCMP to helm a Canadian “cyber-security strategy” | Big brother to track all emails, internet history and telephone calls under UK plan | Is an Internet tax coming? | | New surveillance program will turn military satellites on US | Vision 2015: Consolidation of U.S. Intelligence Into Global Intel Network | Radical change needed in privacy protection, Ont. watchdog says | ‘Einstein’ replaces ‘Big Brother’ in Internet surveillance | Berners-Lee W3C Consortium to ‘Authorize’ Website Content? | Law Professor tells tech conference: plans to shut down Internet already on deck | Britain considers giant database of all phone calls, EMails, browsing history | Bush approves surveillance bill | Sweden approves wiretapping law | Opposition to proposed Swedish surveillance law mounts | Sweden sets sights on new ‘catch and release’ wiretap law | Secretive Canadian spy agency to get $62-million HQ | CRTC revisits Internet oversight | Bell accused of privacy invasion | Whistle-Blower: Feds Have a Backdoor Into Wireless Carrier – Congress Reacts | Canadians who trust our secret police should think again | Listening in on the enemy: Canada’s master eavesdroppers