Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Theresa May and the Return of the Snoopers' Charter, by Loz Kaye

This year's conference season has seen the parties laying out their stalls for 2015's General Election.

Given her attitude to civil liberties it should probably come as no surprise that Theresa May's contribution has been to vow that a future Tory government would reintroduce the “Snoopers' Charter”.

Once again the Conservatives are angling to strip us of liberties and privacy in the name of the war on terror.

We have already had this debate during this parliament.

The Communications Data Bill (dubbed the Snoopers' Charter) was intended to further extend already existing powers to retain information on our communications.

In other words, who all of us phone, email, text, location data and much more.

It was rejected as disproportionate, and after all significant obligations already exist for telcos and ISPs to retain this data.

The rejection of the ever further eroding of our rights to a private life has clearly rankled. Politicians have cynically seized every opportunity to try and press for the widening of the scope of mass surveillance powers.

Each time there is a new atrocity the argument is made that the Communications Data Bill would be a way of preventing it.

Former Home Secretaries queueing up to use the appalling murder of Lee Rigby as a justification for the Snoopers' Charter without a shred of evidence that more intelligence would have made a difference was a particularly nauseating example.

Yet again we have Theresa May at the Conservative Conference saying that we are facing a  “crisis in national security”.

The specific justification made each time for further powers is that there is a declining ability of the police and security services to monitor phone and Internet use. Home Secretaries are presenting this as if it's an upgrade to do with the rapid change of technology and the way that we communicate.

Yet we know from the Snowden revelations that it is simply not the case that our capabilities have fallen behind, quite the reverse.

The myriad alphabet soup of surveillance programmes – PRISM, TEMPORA, XKEYSCORE and the rest have an unprecedented reach.

For example GCHQ's ability to tap in to the transatlantic fibre optic cables has in secret allowed it to access to vast streams of sensitive personal information.

The Guardian compared the sheer volume to being equivalent to sending the entire British Library 192 times each day. This is hardly a diminishing capability as Theresa May claims.

All of this took place without proper public debate and under an oversight regime that GCHQ lawyers themselves described as “light”.

It's preposterous of the Home Secretary to claim that we “risk sleepwalking in to a society in which crime can no longer be investigated”.

This is clearly just pre-election jockeying for position to be able to accuse the Liberal Democrats  of “outrageous irresponsibility” for not backing the Snoopers' Charter.

In fact she of all people must be aware that far from preventing mass surveillance, the LibDems have allowed it to continue in government.

This is shown by their craven backing of shoving the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act or “DRIP “ through parliament in a matter of days.

The latest justification for blanket powers is the rise of ISIL. Yet the alarming success of these extremists shows the failure of massive blanket communications interception.

ISIL has grown up, apparently been operating oil refineries and command posts, UK citizens have left to fight in the Middle East, under the all seeing eye of what Edward Snowden described as “the largest programme of suspicionless surveillance in human history”.

Either the US and UK have not actually been able to make sense of the vast streams of data, or we have and not known what to do about it.

The key dishonesty of all those who argue for further invasions of privacy is to confuse monitoring all of us with monitoring where it's required.

Limiting our collective liberty is no guarantee of our security, far from it.

Theresa May hoped for British values prevailing and winning the day in her speech.  The British values I want to see prevail are preserving liberty and private life.

I welcome that debate for the General Election.

Loz Kaye is the Leader of the Pirate Party UK.

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