Government spy programme will monitor every phone call, text and email | Mail Online
Monday February 20, 2012 11:40 am Leave a comment
What is so objectionable about this kind of proposal is not what is implied by the headlines.
It isn’t a “Spy” program. It won’t “monitor” anything. Spying/monitoring is real time surveillance in hot (or at least warm) pursuit of a suspected criminal or foreign agent. This proposal is for a data retention exercise and its single merit is that the data will be held by the service providers and not in a government owned central database. That dramatically reduces the risk of abuse, not least because it maintains the difficulty of marrying data sources together and keeps it difficult to probe too deeply into individual lives.
The law also offers partial protection (except, of course, in the USA and other countries further along the Police State path than the UK) because access to the data will require the authority of the Courts in a procedure which will be on the public record. That’s not good enough (it ought to be overseen by an appropriate Jury, not Judiciary) but it’s certainly better than the USA PATRIOT Act which allows the FBI unfettered access and penalises data holders for revealing that access.
Nevertheless, it is profoundly disturbing because the proposal reveals either deep ignorance or deep deception.
Security services are said to be concerned about the ability of terrorists to avoid tracking through modern technology and are believed to have lobbied Home Secretary Theresa May to introduce the scheme.
Let’s take it at face value that that “excuse” is real. Most of us would approve or at least tolerate our tax funded security professionals going after serious targets like terrorists, paedophiles and people traffickers etc.
However, such targets are already well aware of the need to avoid tracking and they aren’t going to be remotely concerned at these new measures because they can easily avoid them (as can you or I if we give a shit). Indeed, the small amount of effort required would probably be a useful constant reminder – to those intent on that kind of attack – about the need to maintain good security at all times and thus make it much more difficult to track them.
“Security Services” should know this better than I do – or else we really have got a serious problem. So why would they peddle such a line to the politicians? The answer is likely to be deception rather than ignorance. The deception is that this proposal has very little to do with those meaningful targets at all. It’s about making it possible for the authoritarian state to pursue much more petty crime carried out by the ordinary citizen.
How petty will be a matter of fine political judgement. Initially, they will probably only use it in serious cases where the public could be expected to endorse the required “data mining”. When some naive estranged spouse tries to use the internet to contact and make a deal with a kidnapper to target their ex, or a stalker uses social networking to gather sensitive data on their target, the fact that the police are able to use the stored data to mount a successful prosecution of the miscreants will produce a small ripple of relief and allow the tabloids to trumpet a triumph for the nanny state.
Once that level of intervention has become normalised we can expect the “trigger level” to drop to less serious offences, like those who avoid small amounts of tax by selling goods on ebay or Amazon, or plan their next secret Rave online, or arrange to buy cheap cigarettes abroad and bring them into the country for a smoker friend etc etc.
This kind of “mission creep” is inevitable – as we saw with previous “spy” laws allegedly aimed at terrorism but which resulted in councils using “permitted” surveillance against people overfilling their bins or security staff using terrorist legislation to evict hecklers at party conferences.
We can be moderately confident that such petty oversight is the real aim because it would work. It would oppress most of the population into submissive compliance. In contrast, these measures have no chance whatsoever against the alleged serious targets. Their role is merely to present the convenient excuse for the introduction of measures the STASI would have died for…