Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Big (brother) Picture.

That’s what the government appears to be after with its “new” snooping laws. The fact that the Con-Dem’s vehemently opposed such an infringement while out of power speaks clearly to one overarching fact.

The purpose behind the imposition of these laws is about maintenance of power by those in power. In our multinational electronic age with accurate data readily available to those who care to dig, it leaves the powerbrokers and their spin doctors in an uncomfortable position. They no longer control the flow of information.

Examining the positive case for such Orwellian action, apart from an attempt to “out US the USA”, one can see that it might assist in solving crime. If a person was accused of engaging in child pornography for example it could be a worthwhile tool.

Even that argument falls when one realises that this capacity already exists, retroactively. What is being discussed is real time interception and monitoring.

Every electronic communication in the UK will be monitored in real time and a log retained, the ability to intercept, possibly modify or detain communications has not been specifically ruled out.

Fundamentally the state will be able to decide, based upon the broadest interpretation of the proposals, where you can look, what you can do, the information you can gather, with whom are you become “friends” and based upon the old assertion “fly with the crows” you could well find yourself on watch lists or under extensive surveillance.

The difference between the existing law, which is already far too overreaching, and the May proposals is simple, it’s real time. That’s significant if you already have the information you seek it’s difficult for “big brother” to undo that knowledge. If you can be prevented from receiving the information you seek, the “damage” cannot be done. For example, if you wish to know the truth about the McCrone report it’s now simple to find. With the direction of the proposed legislation it’s very conceivable you may, in future, be prevented from reading the report as it could be deemed damaging to the state.

To put this in a historical sense, imagine that before the 1979 referendum a law was passed to intercept and record every piece of mail dropping through your letterbox, “security services”, and I use the term loosely as it’s now open to being defined precisely who’s security they’re protecting, could steam open your mail and re-seal it before it arrived at your door. If the contents aren’t approved it might never arrive, but you end up on a “watch” list. Now consider you personally have no control over what someone else sends you.

When it’s electronic it might even come to you through a simple typing error in the address line.

Imagine yesterday’s world where every telephone conversation you ever had was eves-dropped and recorded for posterity, just in case. No warrant, no judicial review, just a fact of life, just a complete erosion of civil liberty of the innocent.

Possibly the only reason Westminster did not attempt to do such a thing in 1979 was simply that the technology didn’t exist. It’s only in the last few years with the massive reductions in electronic data storage costs that ideas like this have become practical. Ideas such as this would have exceeded the wettest dreams of yesterday’s fascist or America’s McCarthyists.

The timing is again significant; it helps us understand why those who opposed the violation of that most fundamental human right, privacy, reverse their position now. It’s unlikely to be Scotland, sadly, in Westminster’s eye’s we’re just not that significant, as the Cruddas’ tapes showed as far as Scotland’s concerned it’s just about simple exploitation.

It is far more likely that Westminster is extremely concerned about the Olympics, when the eyes of the world will be on London. The eyes of the world will be focused on the South East for a month or more in total. Journalists in their thousands or tens of thousands will descend upon England’s capitol during that time. There will be a month long media circus.

As Scotland’s referendum approaches there may be intermittent international coverage leading up to the big day, with a splash reporting the results afterwards.

Defining the trigger as the Olympics, also explains the need for the rush on the legislation and with the Olympics being such a prime target it’s understandable. Simply limit the coverage of the legislation to the period leading up to and through the Olympics if they are of such concern.

That will not happen as it also represents an excellent opportunity for permanent expansion of state control, with the Scots referendum next on the horizon there’s what can be described, at a minimum, as a happy coincidence.

The reality is that during the Olympics, Westminster, while focusing on two wee grannies chatting on-line with Skype, will be ignoring the elephant in the corner. Argentina has a gripe, the saber rattling gets louder daily, and there will be no better time for them to take action. Even a small, limited protest action would get instant worldwide media attention during the Olympics.

There are arguments about breaking the laws that already exist, and that such an expansion of state power would assist in bringing criminals to justice. The response to that is simple.

All online traffic should initially be private. No ands, no ifs, no buts!

Certain actions should be triggers for loss of privacy. Specific sites, such as those associated with terrorism or child pornography can be identified as areas of concern and court orders obtained to monitor site traffic and communication there.

When multiple visits are recorded from one origin point to these sites [for how many of us have gone somewhere accidentally, just to experience that “oh sh*t” moment and punch the back or page close button immediately] then a court order can be obtained for a limited time to also monitor that source.

The warrant would have an end date, perhaps ten days from issuance with a potential of one extension, after that the monitor and monitored would both require to be present and state a case as to why or why not the order should be extended. If authorization isn’t given it would be appropriate for all detail gained during the original monitoring period to be destroyed. Any other foreseeable action would be a presumption of guilt on the part of the individual.

Legislation enacted as described here would possibly be beneficial. It would serve to enhance security of the individual and society without severe intrusions into civil liberty, but it would also involve restoring much of the erosion already done and rolling back legislation enacted by previous governments.

We must also then consider the “secret trials” proposal that’s rumored to be proposed, trials that may happen without benefit of defense council. These measures even have the Lib-Dems threatening rebellion although Labour has apparently indicated support.

That is the real issue here. The security services and our elected representatives are moving the goalposts. Great Britain is an island now moving from a society where the individual is presumed innocent until proven otherwise by their peers into a society where all will be presumed guilty.

In effect this is a national electronic ankle bracelet without benefit of trial or even input by the potentially accused.


  1. Some good points well made Hazel and I am in complete agreement, Something must be done to keep the web free.

  2. Another great article, Hazel, and very worrying. The focus for politicians nowadays (excluding, I think, the SNP) seems to have moved from representing the people to keeping the people in check. This is blatantly big brother in lower case – but the beast that is total power will grow and get stronger. Where, I ask, will it stop?

  3. A number of years ago governments the world over had a plan which was ,convince the people that the WEB is full of paedophiles,and therefore they need laws to watch and catch.Mostly the general public agreed,I even heard a conversation between two guys (yes in the pub)that the government should have total control over what anybody puts on the Web,I asked them,out of curiosity,what type of computers they had? none they never had one nor knew anybody who had one? they were convinced that the government should control all what we read and hear.Now at the time I listened to my youngest son who was saying that paedophiles on the web were less than 0.01% bad enough but not like the governments were making out as is the danger from other people as well,I hope I have made that clear enough as it now seems to confuse me.