One Nation Under Surveillance

New writer Matt Gillow lambasts the “Snooper’s Charter” as a full frontal physical assault on the liberty of us all.

Theresa May’s plans to spy on law abiding British citizens are both incriminating and expensive (Photo: Londra Gazette)

Theresa May’s plans to spy on law abiding British citizens are both incriminating and expensive (Photo: Londra Gazette)

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.


Who fancies Theresa May sliding into your DMs? (Photo: The Daily Alternative)

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.


Edward Snowden on the right to free speech and privacy (Photo: A Libertarian Future)

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.

A new, kinder politics? David Cameron's 'one nation.' (Photo: Reuters)

A new, kinder politics? David Cameron’s ‘one nation.’ (Photo: Reuters)

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.

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3 Responses

  1. Adam Fitchett says:

    Well done for calling out this “what have you got to hide?” nonsense that we often hear. When people ask that question, I always think the proper response is: “what have I got to show?” i.e. why am I being considered guilty until proven innocent? Why does the government need to see ANY of my private information? If the government is here to serve us and not us to serve them, then respecting people’s privacy should be the default position. I shouldn’t have to defend my desire to not be spied upon.

  2. Philip Giddings says:

    Edward Snowden is so right that privacy is the premise of free speech. Our computer and Internet access are our tools for choosing what we read, write, observe, learn, think, and dream. Under State computer surveillance by the Thought Police, the only people with nothing to hide are those with nothing to show: sycophantic morons without an independent, dissenting or insolent cell in their brains, too dumbed down by Celebrity Big Brother to care about the real one. When citizens cannot read or write or think, let alone speak out or publish, without fear, free speech and democracy are dead.

  1. January 3, 2016

    […] 12. One nation under surveillance by Matt Gilllow on Filibuster. Why we must oppose Theresa May’s Snoopers’ Charter. […]

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