TO nobody’s surprise, least of all mine, all the usual suspects were in full cry like hounds on a trail before the Home Secretary had even got to her feet this afternoon.
By the time she sat down, the British people — if we can believe the pundits — were heading back to the darkest of Dark Ages to a life that would outstrip anything that George Orwell could possibly have imagined in his wildest nightmares.
So who exactly is forecasting the demise of Britain’s “traditional freedoms” exactly?
First up there is Shami Chakrabati who has described the draft Bill as a “breathtaking attack” on civil liberties.
This would be the same Shami Chakrabarti who not only supported the Leveson Inquiry, itself arguably the most “breathtaking attack” on the freedom of the press in 300 years, but who took an active rôle in its deliberations. If I had to choose between a free press with all its faults and an unaccountable organisation like LIberty then I know which I would choose.
And I certainly would not expect to see the head of that organisation defending a group of second-rate luvvies who are happy to make use of the press when it suits them but turn on it when they’re caught with their trousers down (sometimes even literally).
There are laws that protect private individuals from harassment though there is no statutory right to privacy in English law and there is (was) a Press Complaints body which, while not perfect, served its purpose reasonably well. I have no brief for those who chose to hound Millie Dowler’s family as I have no brief for the paparazzi who make a grubby living trying to acquire candid (read ‘mildly pornographic if we’re lucky’) photographs of any celebrity that they feel inclined to pursue, from royalty down. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater (which Leveson apparently aimed to do) may suit some people but not the people.
On the other hand private individuals who are happy to have the media (and politicians)make use of them — I shall name no names but we all know of people about who you can say “I don’t know what he/she has done to deserve this sort of adulation” — are arguably fair game.
Next up in the handwringing stakes is JImmy Wales, creator of that fount of all on-line wisdom Wikipedia. When my bout of hysterical laughter is over I shall continue.
As a reference work for the non-contentious it has no equal, and I mean that sincerely, folks. But wander out into the world of academe or disputed science (climate is especially vulnerable) and you will meet a host of trolls busily re-writing pages to suit their own bigoted or jaundiced opinions to the point where the site is not just useless but downright dangerous.
Jimmy would like Apple to stop selling iPhones in the UK if Mrs May bans end to end encryption, ie nobody but nobody and that means nobody can crack your communication. Great idea that, Jimmy. Every terrorist organisation, criminal gang or paedophile group is going to light a big, big candle tonight to their patron saint Jimmy Wales!
So let’s remind ourselves that never, ever, since the invention of the printing press has any individual’s communication with another individual been that private. So let’s ask ourselves why we should start now.
Let us stop pretending that making it possible for the security services and the police to read our emails is any different from giving them authority to read our letters or that demanding that ISPs keep a record of what web sites we have visited is in any fundamental way different from filing a detailed list of our phone calls which is what it has been described as.
And finally in this Hall of Shame we have Edward Snowden.
This person’s Wikipedia entry (so maybe we need to take it with a pinch of salt) tells us that he is
“an American privacy activist, computer professional, former CIA employee, and former government contractor who leaked classified information from the United States National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013. The information revealed numerous global surveillance programs, many run … with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments.”
Now I don’t know about you, but I find the word “whistleblower” a somewhat inadequate description for this character. “Creep”, perhaps, or “little shit”, whichever you choose he is certainly not someone that I am about to give much credence to when he tells the British how to run Britain.
He tells us that the communications data covered by the legislation is “the activity log of your life”. He said that on Twitter! Oh, the irony!
Let me end this with another look at Ms Chakrabarti’s home base, Liberty.
As ever greater amounts of our lives are stored, shared and sent online, a detailed and intimate picture of you can be pieced together – revealing much more than any search through your bedside drawer. Don’t we all deserve some basic protections?
Well, yes, Shami, we do deserve some protections. We need protection from those who wish to do us harm whether they are Islamist fanatics or drug dealers or partakers in organised crime or paedophile gangs or those who groom 14-year-old girls for sex.
But we have a responsibility of our own where the “basic protections” are concerned. We need to understand that there are people out there that the state cannot protect us from — fraudsters, computer hackers and others — who rely on our stupidity on-line. If “ever greater amounts of our lives are stored, shared and sent online” perhaps its is time to stop enabling this “detailed and intimate picture of you to be pieced together” from the things we are stupid enough to reveal on Twitter, Facebook and all the other (anti-)social media sites.
We are broadly speaking our own worst enemy but making it impossible to protect us from the real and deadly threats that face us is not freedom or privacy or safety. It’s stupidity.