Our government is blasting a new law onto the books, out of the blue. Under the guise of a pincer movement from Syrian jihadists and British paedophiles, it is trying to terrorize its citizens into accepting the bombshell Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (DRIP).
All three main political parties – Labour, Tories and the Lib-Dems – have secretly plotted to demand all private citizens’ email and phone records be stored by firms so state spies can sift through them.
The new law is designed to re-instate the snooping enabled under the 2006 European Data Retention Directive, which the European Court of Justice (ECJ) struck down last April as in breach of the Human Rights Act.
The British government wants to circumvent that judgement by re-branding spying under DRIP. It describes the Bill as an emergency ‘stop gap’. Yet in the last three months, no party has discussed the ECJ’s ruling with the public, and they are now, without any debate, trying to make it into law during three days next week, before parliament’s summer break.
The Open Rights Group has noted that DRIP contains statutory instruments that allow the Home Secretary and others to broaden the scope of the surveillance at a stroke, without parliament’s involvement.
DRIP also reprises much of the defeated Snooper Charter, a communications bill that the Liberal Democrats stymied in 2013. Restrictions and safeguards are promised in secondary legislation, which has yet to be produced, but this writer suspects these protections will be as open and vague as the apparent state of emergency requiring the law.
We are protected by a ‘sunset’ clause, which will kill the Act in 2016 – a phrase that suggests the suspension of our fundamental rights in law is temporary and ends beautifully! Yet by 2016, there will be no substantive change in party personnel or politics and it’s likely to be renewed with new measures tacked on. Maybe the ECJ will damn the practices again, but enshrining snooping as national – not an EU – law will complicate legal challenges.
This act is just one in a series of laws intent on making seedy furtiveness the all-pervasive code of conduct. Last year, the Justice and Security Act came into effect in Britain. It allows ‘closed sessions’ in civil trials, where sensitive intelligence can be presented against claimants that the judge and security-cleared special advocates can see, but the claimant – and their lawyer cannot. This leaves them hard pushed to disprove any allegations.
In June, the Appeal Court ruled it permissible to allow only certain accredited journalists to attend terror trials, and then to attend some but not all proceedings, and then their notes be stored in court. This demolishes the concept of ‘open justice’ and allows the state to pick and choose who covers such trials.
Meanwhile, inquests and inquiries into state or police malpractices are being ever more jeopardised by cuts to legal aid.
Last year Edward Snowden’s revelations proved the US National Security Agency (NSA)’s surveillance apparatus was global and applied to everybody, even the elected officials of ‘friendly’ states.
We are in an age of global disclosures of state abuses, where whistleblowers such as Snowden, Bradley Manning or Julian Assange, and revelations made under Freedom of Information requests have exposed the need for state spies to be subject to more scrutiny.
This would ensuring that they work to protect our democracy, in a manner commensurate with defending those freedoms, and not usher in the kind of totalitarian state.
Yet we are heading in the opposite direction. This is a global phenomenon. As New Internationalist reported back in August 2012, the governments of the US, UK, Canada and Australia – long-standing partners in harvesting and sharing global intelligence – were all busy pushing laws that demanded our data be stored and open for sifting.
States all profess that these laws are needed to better fight terrorism and paedophiles. Yet in Britain these claims come from the same political parties who housed Cyril Smith, former MP for Rochdale, who abused boys with impunity for decades. More worrying still, a dossier about an alleged paedophile ring among MPs that was given to then Home Secretary Leon Brittan in 1983, was ‘lost’, along with hundreds of other files relating to organized child abuse.
This is more than just a poisonous irony. From protecting those guilty of the most heinous and perverted crimes, to smearing the dead of the Hillsborough football disaster we’ve seen how the top echelons of power in our parliament, civil service, media and police collude.
It begs the question, once again, who do we citizens really need protecting from?