New writer Matt Gillow lambasts the “Snooper’s Charter” as a full frontal physical assault on the liberty of us all.
Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about the right to free speech because you have nothing to say.”
– Edward Snowden
Since the Conservatives’ victory in May, several issues from the previous coalition government have resurfaced to trouble those in opposition, in particular the Liberal Democrats. A lack of zeal in the fight against mental health problems, a potential repeal of both the Human Rights Act and fox hunting ban, but perhaps most prominently, Theresa May’s Draft Communications Data Bill, or “Snooper’s Charter”. The liberalist brakes are off, and now the government aims to severely choke the right to privacy.
There are an alarming number of people in the UK who shrug off the “Snooper’s Charter” as nothing – “if you have nothing to hide then why are you against it?” To these people I would point out that privacy is a human right. In principle, the government having unlimited access to an individual’s metadata (“data about data,” which either concerns data containers or data content) and browsing history is the equivalent of a stranger placing a webcam in your bedroom. Unless you have consented to this it is incriminating and entirely illegal, in much the same way that for many, Theresa May’s surveillance programme would be an attack on personal liberty and against the will of many of the electorate. This, in short, is an ugly abuse of government power.
Perhaps the most alarming point against this legislation is that, contrary to popular belief, your metadata would not be safe in government hands. The Financial Times and The Independent have provided evidence that the Ministry of Defence fends off thousands of cyber-attacks per day on military files alone. A huge influx of collected metadata would stretch the government’s defences even further, as well as providing a greater incentive for would-be hackers and terrorist organisations. Through your data, terrorist organisations could zone in on your whereabouts (location data), enter your social media accounts, and access other incriminating information about your personal life, such as whether you attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. We have managed until now to fight crime and terrorist groups without the help of a surveillance programme which could prove to be just as beneficial to groups such as Isis through the information it could provide them (should they hack it), as it would be detrimental to them.
Of course, there is a tremendous price tag attached to the programme. Estimates have been made of a figure around £1.8bn over the next decade, which doesn’t even include VAT (if you include VAT the figure rises to a huge £2.5bn.) Defences against hacking already cost the government £34bn per annum, and the jobs created and extra workload for the government due to the legislation would certainly see that figure rise dramatically. This is extravagant, to say the least, for such an unnecessary and incriminating piece of legislation, when the funds could be spent elsewhere, on services integral to the prosperity of the UK, and where there are far greater calls for them. The money could help to protect the NHS, or help to improve police departments. Indeed, £1.8bn is enough to pay off 20 per cent of the predicted cost of developing George Osborne’s “Northern powerhouse.” Railway systems could be improved, or more of those being declared “fit for work” by the Ian Duncan Smith regime could be allowed the necessary time off. Money could be spent on foreign aid – which the government has recently noted is absolutely essential in entirely eradicating poverty. I’d rather any of those, than at least £2bn of taxpayer’s money being spent on allowing the government to spy on good, law abiding citizens.
May’s original plan for the “Snooper’s Charter” was obviously to target extremist groups such as Isis or Boko Haram, though she is quoted as saying it focuses on “anybody who speaks out against democracy.” The fact is, this ropes in entirely harmless anarchists such as Russell Brand, or anybody used to other cultures, such as dictatorships. It entirely undermines Britain as a progressive, forward-thinking and accepting society. Indeed, it limits any opposition to the state and is a direct attack on freedom of speech.
Britain, undeniably, is a liberal democracy by nature, entirely disregarding any political party affiliation. It is essential that for the sake of Human Rights and freedom of speech, that May’s Charter is not only opposed, but treated as the insult to democracy that it is.