That sound you can hear? Oh it’s just George Orwell’s coffin tunnelling to the centre of the earth….

by Pseud O'Nym

There has been some degree of controversy over the governments proposed Data Retention and Investigatory Powers act. Some of this has been focused on the lack of parliamentary time given to effectively scrutinizing it in a calm, sober and rational manner, as befits a bill that will enhance the surveillance capability of the state. Some has been focused upon the fact that it is a response to a ruling that the European court made in April that the some of the current legislation was illegal, and thus by creating this new legislation the government is not only moving the goalposts but also changing the rules.

Equally, some concern has been expressed by those, who bearing in mind the revelations from Edward Snowden about the previously unknown range of surveillance powers the state gave itself, have grave misgivings about any government interception of communication being increased. This last point whilst relevant was negated – to some extent – by our dependence offered by the convenience of online shopping. As Admiral Lord West – a former First Sea Lord and security advisor to Gordon Brown’s brief tenure as PM – said in the House of Lords, during the second day’s debate on the 17th July,

“We seem to accept quite happily that communication providers and private firms actually read the content of our emails and use meta-data – and I actually do understand what meta-data is – to find things like how we shop, how we travel, where we travel, where we live, our lifestyle, to advertise. They do all of these things, and yet Liberty and the others don’t seem to mind at all. They are totally uncontrolled, the state is very controlled in terms of what it can do.” Yet no one has seen fit or deemed it worthy of comment that the existing powers to combat terror are frequently mis-applied to curtail the right of expression and protest. Of course no one is going to argue for the rights of paedophile, but my contention is that we already have enough laws that outlaw these activities, and greatly enhance the power of the state to root them out. The problem is they are not being applied in a way that gives victims any confidence their claims will be taken seriously. If the powers that already exist are not deemed fit for purpose, then surely the obvious thing to do is change the people charged with applying them, rather than give them new laws. (I know it’s no laughing matter, but surely this is exactly the moment to laugh?)

As this NSPCC survey reports, eight out of ten child sexual abuse victims knew their abuser and in most cases where they did know the abuser, it was either a parent or a close family friend. So I’d better present myself to a police station as a preemptive measure, as I share a house with a small child. (And we can’t be too careful, can we!) Oddly enough, or more likely chilling, the statistic that eight out ten victims knew their abuser echoes this report into rape and other sexual offences suffered by adults that states: “Around 90 per cent of victims of the most serious sexual offences in the previous year knew the perpetrator”. There are laws against rape. Everyone knows it’s wrong. But as the report points out: “Females who had reported being victims of the most serious sexual offences in the last year were asked, regarding the most recent incident, whether or not they had reported the incident to the police. Only 15 per cent of victims of such offences said that they had done so.” Given that the report estimates that 85,000 victims could have done so, it is hardly surprising when the conviction rate is so abysmally low.

We have a rather nimbyish attitude towards privacy. On the one hand we wish to safe guard our own but on the other hand other peoples right to privacy is less of concern. But my point is,that once the genie is out of the bottle it can’t be put back and in this case the genie won’t be granting wishes but rather taking them away. Any government that claims that curtailing liberties is necessary to protect a greater freedom is engaging in sophistry of the highest order. Think I’m exaggerating?

In 2007, in a court case brought by climate change protesters against the Metropolitan Police, the Metropolitan Police said that they had been encouraged by the government to use section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, to undertake stop and search measures against climate change protesters. Not the sort of people most people would readily identify as terrorists. In 2003 the same legislation was used to arrest nearly 1000 protesters outside RAF Fairford. This was all perfectly legal.

In 2009 a couple from Poole in Dorset were engaged in a battle with their local council to have their child admitted to a school of their choice. The council was dubious as to whether they lived in the schools catchment area so they did what any responsible council would do. They used the powers legally bestowed upon them by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to embark on a sustained covert operation against the parents using both CCTV and private investigators.
Again this was all legal and all the more shockingly is the fact that swathes of the population do not know they have even been investigated.

By the way the sound you can hear is the sound of George Orwell’s coffin tunnellng towards the centre of the earth. His book ‘1984’ provided a stark warning of a surveillance state encroaching upon civil liberties in the most draconian fashion, and by controlling the news outlets effectively rewriting history to suit their version of events. Sadly, this warning has been sacrificed upon the altar of safeguarding us against paedophiles, terrorists and other low hanging fruit on the immorality tree. Quite who decides who and how high they are on the immorality tree is something that is decided by others. This brings to mind the chillingly prophetic poem of Martin Niemoller, a pastor and social activist in Nazi Germany. In it he outlines how the start of a slippery slope rapidly gathers momentum if people are deluded into thinking laws curbing civil liberties apply only to others. As Alan Bulloch in his excellent tome “Hitler: A Study in Tyranny” observed, Hitler used the letter of the law to subvert the law.
“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

As Paul McMullan, former Deputy Features Editor at The News of The World said at the Leveson Inquiry “In 21 years of invading people’s privacy I’ve never actually come across anyone who’s been doing any good. Privacy is the space bad people need to do bad things in…privacy is for paedos; fundamentally nobody else needs it.” (It’s just over 3 minutes of (thankfully) edited odious justification. But if you want the less odious, more poptastic version, here are the magisterial Pet Shop Boys with Integral:

Next time: How Radio 4 was the Professor Higgins to my Eliza Doolittle….