The truth is that Labour and Conservatives have colluded over subsequent governments to dramatically expand the extent of the surveillance state in Britain – writes Loz Kaye
We are often told that the British public at large does not really care about the issue of mass surveillance. British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that he does not “think that Snowden has had an enormous public impact”. Certainly, the United Kingdom has not seen huge public demos or the kind of intense pressure on our politicians that has been seen in the United States and in Germany.
The calculation from British MPs and party wonks is that while a lot of people are actually very passionate about being citizens rather than suspects, it is not something that moves votes. That it is the kind of issue, which is too abstract to make a difference to the UK political landscape. So much of what fills debate at the moment is the stuff of the fundamentals of life, the cost of living, housing, the National health Service, flooding and foodbanks. The point being that if you are worrying about being thrown out of your house because of the bedroom tax, what US President Barack Obama may or may not know about that is not number one priority.
Privacy campaigners would do well to remember this too. If our fundamental rights become about meta this, cyber that and crypto the other most people will just roll their eyes and move on. If we are to see real progress, PRISM and TEMPORA must stop being a tech story and start becoming a real political story.
The truth is that Labour and Conservatives have colluded over subsequent governments to dramatically expand the extent of the surveillance state. Whether it is Charles Clarke or Theresa May, they have been mixing up the idea of modernisation and updating capability with extension of reach. No cynical opportunity has been missed to call for greater powers in the name of national security.
The big two parties have failed to hold the security services to account. Ed Miliband is the kind of Labour leader that normally calls for an enquiry about the opening of a packet of crisps. But he has had no enthusiasm of getting to the bottom of how the British peoples’ civil liberties have been eroded.
While there may be notable naysayers like Tom Watson and David Davis, they are not driving Labour or Conservative policy. This appears to be dictated from within the Home Office, whether it is intercept modernisation or the Communications Data Bill.
Perhaps the worst aspect of all is that we have been given the impression that we had some kind of democratic choice over these types of measures. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg announced with a great fanfare that the ‘snoopers charter’ had been defeated, that “the idea the government will pass a law which means there will be a record kept of every website you visit, who you communicate with on social media – that’s not going to happen”.
The law may not have passed but that is exactly what happened. And it has been happening all the time that the Lib Dems have been in government. Either the Lib Dem top brass did not know, which means the post of deputy prime minister is even more meaningless than we thought, or they did and thought the rest of us would not find out. Either way this is yet another broken Lib Dem pledge and one that will be very hard for their activists to swallow.
However, the Westminster crowd should not mistake their own inability or unwillingness to act for a wider apathy. It does matter that the state has become so paranoid that we have all become potential enemies whoever we are. It does matter if GCHQ has become so dangerously out of control that it indulges in DDoS tactics and targets people on the grounds of their political speech and beliefs. It does matter that we live in a country where the security services destroy the hard drives of a national newspaper. It is now up to us to show our politicians it does matter. That is where change will come from.
Loz Kaye is leader of the Pirate Party UK