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Why the Snoopers' Charter must be fought

10 May 2013

Philip Hunt

The Queen's Speech in the Houses of Parliament made clear that the British government intends to implement a bill – the so-called Snoopers' Charter – to track everybody's email, text and internet use, despite a statement from the leader of the coalition partners, Nick Clegg, that this would be "over my dead body".

This bill is one that is driven by the security services and law enforcement authorities, who believe such powers will enable them to track down and defeat serious crime. That it will clearly not do so, yet in the process undermine some of the most fundamental civil liberties in the country seems to have passed them by.

So much so that I begin to believe there is a different agenda at work here. While the stated objective for the general public is that you need to be monitored for your own safety, perhaps the real, and hidden, agenda is to establish a means of population control.

The surveillance parallels with George Orwell's 1984 are frequently pointed out. Less often remarked upon are its conclusions, that a society ruled by fear and paranoia is easily manipulated by unscrupulous rulers to maintain control and their own positions of power.

We are not so far away from that society right now. In Orwell's vision, people's movements were tracked everywhere by camera. Right now, London is the world's surveillance capital, with over a million CCTV cameras.

In his vision, people's TV viewing was monitored by camera. Right now, your TV viewing habits can be tracked when you connect the phone line to the digibox to use the BBC's iPlayer, or to download the latest film from Virgin or Sky.

In his vision, all phone lines were always tapped. Right now, we have gone one better; the latest smartphones not only keep a record of your calls, they can also log your travel movements and even track your bodily position while you are exercising. The dangers for journalists are obvious.

There is one glaring difference between Orwell's nightmare and the present day. He envisaged a time when an army of people would be employed to spy on the general population. Now we don't need that army; the technology is available (and being sold) that enables small groups of people to employ automated technologies to monitor, record and analyse huge amounts of information, then come up with a result - "this individual is dangerous to you".

You might say that there is little that we as individuals can do about it. But there is. Make sure your MP knows your feelings about such activities, and join those groups (like the NUJ) that try to keep societies civil and liberties individual.

And we can try to stop attempts at population control from building further. In the US, the source since 911 of many of the moves for greater surveillance, I believe the tide is starting to turn.

This is a country where the reality is, despite the Fourth Amendment, that people's communications are totally unprotected against any kind of official monitoring and snooping. But more and more legal challenges are starting to appear against such draconian surveillance legislation, from groups as diverse as the EFF (the Electronic Frontier Foundation) and US senators.

Many of us enjoy huge on-screen fantasy epics such as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Some might say that we take refuge in them, because we are unconsciously sickened by a society in which fundamental aspects of humanity such as hope, goodwill, peace and generosity of spirit seem to be disappearing. If you live in a sick society, it is not surprising that you want to escape it as often as possible.

I think it is time to do something about that society. Don't let this measure get onto the law books.

Tags: , surveillance, press freedom, snoopers' charter, communications data bill, government uk, parliament uk, broadcasting, bbc, bbc iplayer, virgin media, bskyb, protection of sources, whistleblowers, eff