Today, Theresa May evoked the fear of paedophiles to justify shafting the privacy of everyone in Britain – and I won the office sweepstake.
As I told the rest of the TechEye office at the time of the original announcement, it will only be a matter of time before the Tories need to convince the world that monitoring was needed to protect British children from kiddy-fiddlers.
Terrorists would just not be enough of a threat for Brits to allow someone to watch them download porn in real time. While terrorists work to scare US citizens into handing over their cherished freedoms, the UK has dealt with terrorists for a long time and knows that the only way to defeat them is to ignore them. But nothing puts the fear of god into Middle England as someone on the the sex offender’s register moving into the neighbourhood. Remember. The internet is a neighbourhood, and we’re all part of it. This makes them the perfect reason to bring in wholesale monitoring of the internet in the UK.
Four hundred years ago, May would have said we need to surrender all of our human rights to protect us from Catholics or witches, but we are not allowed to say that sort of thing any more.
What is more surprising is that it is the Tory government backing the monitoring law – although there has been strong backbench opposition. These are the same people who claimed that Labour was selling Britain’s freedom down the river by planning similar laws a few years ago. Labour backed down, but at the moment the Tories are earnest about their hypocrisies.
Well, not all Conservatives. It is getting messy for David Cameron and Theresa May in that they might face a good old fashioned back-bench revolt over it. The Liberal Democrats could join in too, and Cameron’s majority is not that big. It would at least be some much needed political point scoring for the damaged Lib Dems.
The idea of the Act on surface appears to be to create a large ISP-fed database which GCHQ can sort through to spot anything dodgy. If it sees you looking at how to build a bomb then it can pop around to the local court and get a warrant to have a look in your computer. Of course, the government already has means to obtain warrants.
As legal expert Niri Shan, head of the highly rated media and entertainment law group at Taylor Wessing, points out the whole concept is against Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“I believe what they are proposing would amount to a flagrant infringement of the citizen’s right of privacy and I don’t believe there is a public interest justification for it,” he said.
He added that if the government introduces such a law it would be open to challenge on a European level under Human Rights legislation.
If the security services want to get hold of this sort of information they need to get a warrant and in doing so justify why it is needed, he said.
So, there is no chance that this law is going to be enacted in Europe. The big question is why would any western government want these sorts of controls?
One critic argued that the big picture could be about data retention. A privacy advocate told us: “What this is, is data retention, which we don’t have yet. If they get to see how long people are in contact with each other, then surely that would mean that the data is being retained – right now our data retention is very low, so I’m guessing this is a sneaky way of getting further in line wih EU data retention, without saying ‘we’re going to retain your data and you can’t do anything about it'”.
Other critics still could suggest the whole proposals are a false flag – that they stand very little chance of going through the Lords without major reform. That makes the story yet more puzzling. What on earth are the Tories playing at?
There might be some clues from down under. We are talking about, of course, when the Australian government attempted to stick a filter on the internet.
What happened was that the filter was considered a state secret. It was supposed to prevent attack and illegal porn. But, after a while, the list was leaked and it emerged that a few other things had found their way onto the filter list. Some of it was harmless stuff which was on the list by accident, but other things looked to be there for political reasons. These were mostly foreign sites that the government did not want people reading about. The pain threshold of the list was quite low. Australians have attempted to ban pornography and films which depict women with small breasts.
The Australian government was happy with the filter and knew that it would never be downgraded if a new government came in. After all, the new government would have the same vested interests in keeping such websites under lock and key.
This is how it could turn out in Britain. The Tories bring it in and are able to adapt it to keep so-called troublemakers in check. When Labour gets into Number 10, they will not dismantle it because they will win the same advantages.
Gradually, the filters and the keywords that the spooks are looking for will change from terrorists to parking tickets and everyone will have to obey the rules. And while your family might forget about that embarrassing drunken incident involving the whipped cream and the outside drainpipe, the State will never forget.
In short, you end up in the world of Big Brother ironically watching Big Brother because it is the safest program to watch. All we can say is thank the gods Cameron and May don’t have the power over their people they think they do, as evoking paedophiles will, hopefully, cut no ice with Europe.