Share some concerns

"Ok I've got a massive bee in my bonnet about this. I'm not going to argue that states don't need spies. I don't doubt that there are dangerous people out there with plans to blow other people up for ideological reasons. I'm sure our intelligence agencies do monitor the activities of bona fide terrorists at home and abroad. But the threat of terrorism is miniscule compared to the amount of column inches given over to it. Fewer than 55 people have died as a result of 'terrorist' activity in the UK since 2000, 52 of whom died in the London 7/7/05 attacks - talk about bees, that's apparently comparable to the number of people dying from bee and wasp stings over the same period. What's more, any terrorists worthy of the name already know about the risks that digital footprints represent in terms of getting caught. You know the start of Four Lions where the would-be-bombers eat their SIM cards? It's such common knowledge it's the stuff of comedy. There were no internet or telephone cables at Osama Bin Laden's hidey-hole in Abbottabad.

 

The point is, the threat of terrorism is relatively small and there's very little evidence that enhanced surveillance capabilities would help to decrease the threat further. It can not, therefore, justify the sweeping powers the security establishment has claimed for itself without a clear mandate from anyone. Even Cabinet and Home Office ministers claim to be in the dark about who authorised the GCHQ surveillance programmes, never mind the British public, whom the system purports to serve. This is a system that allows spies to listen to your phone conversations, read your emails, look at your pictures and know your entire Internet search history. That means they can all but read your mind. They have the power to know your every move, what you spend your money on, about your debts, your medical record, your sexual preferences, that you're cheating on your partner, that you have an addiction, your political affiliations and activisms and business dealings etc etc and same again for everyone you care about. That's a whole lot of vulnerability being left wide open for exploitation. Under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, it is my RIGHT to keep that stuff private. And as much as the Tories have threatened to scrap the Human Rights Act, in any fair and humane society it should remain my right.

 

That's not to say I believe that you or I are being spied on that closely. I'm under no illusion that my digital footprint is particularly interesting to anyone or that anyone would have much to gain by exploiting it. But if I was the director of a corporation, or a politician, or a diplomat or a high court judge or a union leader, there are a lot of total strangers would have whole lot of leverage over me. Would you trust them all to use such information only to further 'national security' as any normal person would understand it? I sure as hell wouldn't.

 

There have been a lot of high profile cases of corruption in the police forces, why would our intelligence forces be any more principled? Think of Stephen Lawrence's family who, in pressing for justice for their murdered son, became a little embarrassing for the Metropolitan police force who turned their surveillance lens on the Lawrence family themselves, (the victim's family, to be clear) to try and discredit them and their obviously legitimate cause... And related to this, the recent cases of police officers who infiltrated peaceful activist groups and went so far 'undercover' that they had relationships, and even children (!!) with the people they were still spying on. Plus countless other examples of unlawful use of police powers - from the death of newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson at the hands of riot police in the London G20 Summit, to the Andrew Mitchell "Plebgate" story to Northumbria Police Constable Stephen Mitchell who abused his authority for sexual gain. We know about these abuses because public inquiries have brought them to light or, at the very least, the press has been allowed to report on them. In the case of GCHQ, there's no regulatory framework and the press can't report on specific cases for reasons of 'national security'. The system is ripe for abuse and there's sod all oversight or accountability to safeguard against it..

 

I don't think any of the ideas I present here are original and they'll doubtless all be pretty familiar to anyone who has been following this story in what little remains of a free press in this country... I can dig out references if anyone cares. Unfortunately, all the evidence speaks to the fact that most people (most of my facebook included) are totally indifferent, and that's the most terrifying fact of all.

 

If you share my concerns you should take 2 minutes to write to your MP and ask them to attend the debate on Thursday about government spying programmes. Don't worry if you don't know who your MP is, the link here will find out for you. https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/speakout/spying-debate"

 

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