They’re at it again – spies spook the big three parties into backing same old snooping powers, ignoring the EU, their own voters and every normal vestige of proper democratic process and debate
Without warning, the UK government is blasting a new law onto the books, terrorising its citizens with the threat of a pincer attack between Syrian jihadists and British paedophiles into accepting the bombshell Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill. All three main political parties, Labour, Tories and Lid-Dems, have secretly plotted to demand all private citizens’ email and phone records be stored by firms so state spies can sift through them. It’s a new law designed to reprise old practices from the 2006 European Data Retention Directive, which the European Court of Justice struck down just last April as in breach of the Human Rights Act. That’s that, it’s illegal. But the UK government thinks it can circumvent that judgement by rebranding such practices under a new law so urgently needed that, in the three months since April, none of the three parties have discussed the ECJ ruling with the public – but have agreed among themselves, without any debate, to make law in a little over a week.
Of the many objections noted in a coldly scathing summary by the Open Rights Group, DRIP contains Statutory Instruments that allows the Home Secretary and others (but doesn’t oblige Parliament’s involvement) to broaden the scope of the surveillance at a stroke. DRIP also reprises much of the dreaded Communications Bill, the ‘Snoopers’ Charter’ that the Liberal Democrats stymied in 2013 but are now curiously OK with. Restrictions or safeguards are promised in secondary legislation, but which has yet to be produced, protections that this writer suspects would anyway be as open and vague as the state of emergency requiring the law.
We’re protected by a ‘sunset’ clause – a phrase that helps us believe the suspension of our fundamental rights in law is temporary and ends beautifully – killing the Act in 2016, but by which time there’ll be no substantive change in party personnel or politics and it’ll be renewed with new measures tacked on. Maybe the ECJ will damn the practices again, but reprising them as a national and not an EU law makes a mess for legal challenges.
It seems that in an age of global disclosures of state abuses, curtesy of Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning or Julian Assange, or revelations made under Freedom of Information requests, our elected officials and the state they represent (not us citizens) are making seedy furtiveness the all-pervasive code of conduct, and rule of law. Last year in the UK came into effect the Justice and Security Act, which allows the government to submit into civil trials intelligence against claimants that the judge and security-cleared special advocates can see, but the claimant can’t. Hence they cannot effectively disprove allegations against them. Further, in June 2014 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, if they’re on at all. Inquests and inquiries into state or police malpractices are being ever more jeopardised by cuts to legal aid.
Last year Snowden’s revelations proved the US National Security Agency’s surveillance apparatus was global in scale and applied to everybody, even the elected officials of ‘friendly’ states whose intelligence and security agencies were erstwhile involved in the NSA’s enterprise. To whit the UK’s MPs on the Commons’ Intelligence and Security Committee most congenially interrogated the chiefs of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 (Sir Iain Lobban, Mr Andrew Parker a and Sir John Sawers respectively), and agreed to allow those chiefs to prove their claims in private, with evidence given later in camera.
The Snowden revelations exposed the need for state spies to be subject to scrutiny ensuring they work to protect our democracy, in a manner commensurate with defending those freedoms, and not become de facto the kind of totalitarian states they purport to defend us from. Yet all we see now in the open is our judiciaries and Parliaments fronting those same agencies’ agendas of secrecy, and in the same furtive manner. And this is a global phenomenon. As New Internationalist reported in August 2012, the governments of the US, UK, Canada and Australia – long-standing partners in harvesting and sharing global intelligence – were all coincidentally selling laws demanding our data be stored and open for sifting, and like now all in order to fight terrorism and better battle paedophiles.
In the UK these claims come from the same political parties who housed and feted the likes of Jimmy Savile and Cyril Smith, from a prime minister whose own press officer hacked the phone of a murdered child, passing laws to empower state institutes like the Home Office that yet loses over 100 files relating to a paedophile ring looping through Westminster. This isn’t just a poisonous irony. Be it from protecting worthy perpetrators guilty of the most heinous and perverted crimes, to smearing the dead of Hillsborough, we’ve seen how the top echelons of power in our Parliament, in the civil service, in the media, both in the BBC and News Corp, and the police, can and will collude to keep themselves safe. This is an incestuous culture among the ruling elite and its bodies politic and power that we cannot assume has changed, and this vile conniving behind this new illegal law is born of that self-regarding culture of secrecy that yet demands us citizens splay ourselves naked before it. Who actually do we need protecting from?
 Transcript of the November 7, 2013 Intelligence and Security Committee meeting with the chiefs of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. https://b1cba9b3-a-5e6631fd-s-sites.googlegroups.com/a/independent.gov.uk/isc/files/20131107_ISC_uncorrected_transcript.pdf?attachauth=ANoY7cpKqXuV98dQHH6kGyMEgrjo0uHww8rcUsYnsRTGo6Cg26MXzzaZMh8HKDOcwSJ6NIt-8ur5CNqiOBK7lOXMH0JSnwRfI43TXJ3GjTz6m2i9N3xv86qFduxbautp0RCwF66aE-dXo7eNE2vlE2YXkDDKyR44FdpRkKbfCP0GWtnrYZ6Pd1mbeV2KN1dZ5DhXGBsq_6XwpC7K3cFb4lFt47q1uUXIIOsMIKPJgnf-8IbW1oyJsvu7891eJv3Pv6cShvW7_mmx&attredirects=0