Wednesday 4 April 2012

Surveillance Britain - now it's the coalition's turn

Isn’t it odd that the government wants to read our emails while keeping its own grubby dealings and internal memos secret for 30 years?

The coalition plans to introduce new measures to snoop on citizens in ways that would not be out of place in China, Burma, Russia or Syria - yet they have no mandate to do so. In fact, in 2010, the Coalition’s ‘Programme for Government’ promised to do the exact opposite.

Page 11 states “we will implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and roll back state intrusion” and “we will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason”.

Back in 2010, Nick Clegg was telling us snooping did not make us safer. If there were a word in the English language to describe the antithesis of a mandate, this would surely be a prime example.

As recently as their Spring Conference March 2012, the Lib Dems declared the need to “undo the damage done to civil liberties, including Labour’s sustained assault on basic freedoms” (Page 50, policy motion)

When in opposition, Conservatives and Lib Dems (rightly) howled in protest when Labour tried to introduce similar plans. Yet, now in government they are all for it! What hypocrisy! What dishonesty!

So why the 180 degree change of mind? The suspicion is that this is a civil service driven policy. When Sir Humphrey fails to push through a much cherished plan with the sitting minister, he simply waits for the next hapless stooge to be appointed and tries again.

The Coalition feebly claims they need the powers to access people’s emails and web history as part of the fight against crime and terrorism. However, given the government’s track record on keeping personal data safe, having access to this sort of information actually increases the risk of crime. And there are already ample powers for the police and security services to be used when needed.

To assuage our fears, Nick Clegg promises the plans will be subject to the ‘highest possible safeguards’. Unfortuanetly, given Clegg’s track record on tuition fees and the referendum on the EU constitutional treaty, we know the Lib Dem leader’s promises are totally worthless. So hungry for power are the Lib Dems that they have simply swapped all their principles for seats on the front bench.

The Conservatives have nothing to be proud of either. If they back the plans, they will breaking their own 2010 manifesto pledges to ‘restore our civil liberties’ and ‘protect our freedoms’ (See page 79 of the Conservative 2010 manifesto if you want a good laugh!) They will also be in breach of the Coalition’s ‘Programme for Government’.

Clearly our political leaders can no longer be trusted to protect civil liberties. Miliband has nothing to say as it was his Labour government that introduced RIPA, the Snooper’s Charter that allows local councils to spy on citizens suspected of putting out bins on the wrong day or dropping litter. The change of government has not brought about the promised change of direction. It is now all too plain to see that Cameron is not a conservative and Clegg is no liberal. Shame on them both.

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