The passing of the Snoopers’ Charter yesterday was a bad day for democracy, not just in the UK, but across the world, as governments everywhere watch and take note. By vastly expanding State surveillance powers in a country that has historically been a beacon of democracy and individual liberty, the British government is setting a terrible precedent that will inevitably be followed by strongmen, juntas, and dictators everywhere.
If we doubt that the international community has been eagerly waiting for the UK to set a terrible surveillance precedent, then consider this: the UK government has freely admitted that GCHQ spies on communications from all over the globe, and the Investigatory Powers Bill legally enshrines its right to do so. So where are the howls of outrage we might expect from other governments whose citizens have been shamelessly spied upon? The answer is nowhere, because leaders everywhere are eagerly watching to see if the UK government can pull off this shameless coup against its own citizens, hoping to follow its example.
The UK government, it seems, does not care about the terrible effect this will have on human rights across the globe, but it will in many ways undermine the government’s own aims. In passing such Orwellian legislation, the UK sacrifices any moral high ground it may still have, thereby limiting its ability to influence world affairs. This legislation is therefore a classic case of the government shooting itself in the foot.
In passing the Investigatory Powers Bill, the UK government is asking the British public to trust it to keep them safe. The question, however, is safe from what? The chances of a UK citizen being involved in a terrorist incident are minuscule, while the new law is a fundamental attack on the basic liberties of all citizens. It will touch the lives of everyone, and because of it, we will all be less free.
Any claim that the Investigatory Powers Bill represents a sensible balance between privacy and safety is pure sophistry. Presenting the issue in such binary terms deliberately ignores the complex practical and philosophical complexities of the subject, dumbing it down to a false dichotomy in which a scared public, distracted by populist rabble-rousing that conflates the current humanitarian refugee crisis with terrorism, will sign-up up to anything in exchange for the illusion of safety.
Perhaps the biggest irony is that it is not terrorists or perverts that are attacking the British way of life, our values, and our hard-won freedoms, but our own government. And it does this under the pretence of defending precisely those freedoms it is taking away with this legislation.
If we are to assume that terrorists’ motives are to damage our society, to shake our faith in liberal multicultural values, our open-minded tolerance, and our deep-seated cultural belief in the primacy of the individual against overbearing State power or dogmatic belief, then yesterday’s passing of the Snoopers’ Charter is the clearest possible sign that the terrorists have already won.
Douglas Crawford is a cyber-security analyst at BestVPN.