Make no mistake, the plans to extend surveillance into real-time monitoring of every type of electronic communication do not originate with the ConDem government. They represent the demands of the secret state tooling up for social confrontation.
The authorities were stung during last year’s riots in England when young people used social media, including encrypted Blackberry Messenger, to communicate with each other.
Now the pressure is on from inside the security services is to extend the surveillance state into every corner of people’s lives. They want instant access to what people are saying and who they’re communicating with, by email and the web through services like Skype.
The authorities will be able to establish patterns by seeing who we send texts and emails to and how frequently, which websites we visit and what we download and the people we phone and how often. Which video games people play online will also be covered.
No warrants would be required, allowing for instant data-mining on a vast scale. One campaigner called it “a bug in every home”. Another said: “You will never know when you are being watched, and nobody else will either, because none of it will need a warrant.”
Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch campaign group, said: “This is an unprecedented step that will see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance seen in China and Iran. This is an absolute attack on privacy online and it is far from clear this will actually improve public safety, while adding significant costs to internet businesses. If this was such a serious security issue why has the Home Office not ensured these powers were in place before the Olympics?”
And both the Tories and Lib Dems, who opposed similar moves by New Labour in 2009 – which were only abandoned on cost grounds – are willing to comply. Undoubtedly, much of the operation will be “out-sourced” to private companies (who will undoubtedly lose/sell the information).
The £2 billion a year estimated cost is clearly seen as a priority while other government spending is being cut.
Under the plans due to be announced next month by home secretary Theresa May, the ConDems will build on a whole raft of measures introduced by the Blair governments.
These compelled internet service providers to keep everyone’s emails and make them available on request. A whole range of bodies were given unprecedented powers to conduct surveillance under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
Some three million operations have been carried out under this law in the last decade. Add in CCTV cameras, licence-plate readers, biometric passports (not to say supermarket “loyalty” cards) and Britons are amongst the most spied-on people anywhere.
While claiming that the purpose is to detect clandestine criminal activity and would-be terrorists, the secret state has a deeper agenda. This is to check on emerging social movements like Occupy and spontaneous upsurges of a generation cut off from work and resources.
Pre-emptive arrests using existing anti-terror laws might follow, creating a form of internment at time of social unrest. These are the scenarios being worked on at organisations like MI5 and other bodies that so secret that they are a state within the state.
Only a few libertarian Tories like David Davis and the odd Lib Dem MP are speaking out against the new plans. Labour wants “safeguards” but is otherwise in support. The real conspiracy, therefore, is that of the three major parties. They are prepared to endorse the Big Brother state plans of the security services rather than defend the liberties of the electorate.
We must conclude that a parliamentary state that is unable, unwilling or incapable of defending basic liberties (as well as living standards and services like the NHS) is not fit for purpose. A totally new democratic framework is required that will dismantle the oppressive inner state as a precondition for guaranteeing basic rights and liberties.