This surveillance bill puts our hard-won freedom in peril
Politicians and the media are wont to tell us we live in a time rife with dangers, plots and calumnies. Since 9/11 we have received a daily barrage of news warning us of far-off countries populated by people who have no respect for human life or our democratic institutions. We have been lectured by newsreaders, prime ministers and security pundits that terrorism will invade our shores and take away our freedoms, unless we allow our state, spy agencies and police departments to monitor us through endless trawling of our meta data, emails and private phone conversations.
Yet despite this epidemic of fear, Britain is still sceptical about womb-to-tomb government observation. In fact, a recent Ipsos Mori poll found 68% of those surveyed were concerned about information being collected about them by the government. However, in spite of this overwhelming distrust by the public, the PM and his coalition, along with the Labour party, persist in telling us that there are dark forces which threaten our safety, requiring the government to enact and maintain this invasive, encompassing scrutiny of free citizens.
I grant that we live in perilous times, but I have encountered far worse. As a young man I witnessed the dark clouds of German bombers swarm like malevolent hornets above this country’s cities in the second world war, intent on obliterating every man jack of us. Today, despite the chaos that Isis, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram have created, we as a civilisation are not about to be annihilated by terrorism.
There are more pressing threats to national health and stability than fifth columnists and terrorist sleeper cells. Income inequality, the lack of opportunity for our young, the decline of the NHS, housing poverty, and food and fuel poverty are real dangers to this country’s ability to progress and thrive.
The introduction next week of the data retention and investigatory powers bill by this government is therefore disturbing because it will needlessly compel phone and internet companies to retain our online lives, browsing history, texts, emails and intimate, mundane conversations with friends, family and colleagues. It is being hammered through parliament because Cameron tells us he does not wish to see a catastrophic terrorist attack while he is in charge. I grant his intention is noble, but if parliament doesn’t properly, honestly debate this bill they will make a mockery of democracy and the Westminster system.
For the government to have private corporations store so much information about us without earnest, prolonged debate and reflection by parliament is more than an affront to our country’s long-held belief in privacy, in our right to freedom of thought and movement; it is an affront to human progress. Since the dark ages, human society has fought to remove the yoke of state and feudal control. Freedom is the most sacred burden that all people must fight to preserve. The right to privacy, to worship, to assemble, to be a member of a union, to dissent, to choose, and to love and be loved regardless of one’s sexual orientation, are all at risk if this bill becomes law. It took centuries of struggle for our nation to acquire the attributes of a civilised and just society. But they can vanish in a moment if our elected representatives fail to defend those rights in parliament.
The data retention and investigatory powers bill will not make British citizens safer in their everyday lives, nor will it protect us from terrorists, organised crime or keep our children out of harm’s way. All it will do is put a leash on the human spirit and deaden the hearts of those who desire to live in a free and liberal nation. It is incumbent upon our parliament to debate this bill and mitigate its omnipotence. Otherwise this new set of surveillance laws will be used to draw an iron curtain across freedom and democracy in Britain.