Thursday, December 08, 2016

The UK descends into dystopia...

Originally, I intended to record this as my first ever vlog; but a combination of bad lighting (last week) and an annoying cold (this week) put paid to that idea so I decided to simply rework the text for my blog...

Now, if you're reading this in the UK then - congratulations - your Internet Service Provider is now recording the fact that you have visited Blogger, and how long you stayed here, and they will be holding onto that data for the next year. Not only that, but there are 48 different governmental bodies that can now freely access the records of your internet data.


And what's even better, those 48 governmental bodies can do so without even requiring a warrant.

Now, if you're wondering how it is that the UK has managed to catch up on 32 years of missed time and drag us all into a digital version of Orwell's 1984, then you perhaps missed the fact that last Tuesday, after having been passed by the House of Lords in November, Royal Assent was given to the Investigatory Powers Bill - also known as the Snoopers Charter - making it law.

This was a bill heralded by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, as a "security nightmare".

Edward Snowden - who let's not forget worked for the NSA, hardly an agency known for its snowy white morals - described it as "THE most extreme surveillance in the history of Western democracy".

So, obviously, with a bill of such importance, the day after the House of Lords had passed it the papers were absolutely awash with news on it.

The Sun led with '3 Lions Team in 4am Bender'

The Daily Mail wondered 'What is going on in our jails?'

And the Daily Star brought us the earth shattering news that Danny Baker thought that Paul Gascoigne could win I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!...that's if he were to actually enter it...

Yes, that is correct, absolutely ZERO coverage in the popular press.

Every man, woman, and child in the entire country is going to have their internet habits catalogued and searchable by any one of 48 different government bodies and yet the press hardly made a peep.

And if you're wondering exactly WHO has the power to find out all about your internet habits - how long you spend on Facebook and Netflix, the news sites you visit, the porn sites you visit...

...although the Digital Economy Bill - passed in the House of Parliament last Thursday - is trying its best to cut out such smutty behaviour among Britons by forcing them to submit to a new age verification checking system and the attitudes of the UK's current government towards porn is perhaps expressed by the Culture Minister, Matt Hancock who said:

"I appreciate that for those who really want to access porn online then if they are really intent on doing that then there is a big challenge in stopping that.

In stopping that.

It's like the Conservatives won't be happy until we're on a one way trip back to Victorian prudishness.

But I digress.

Who gets to see all this? Who gets permission to dig through our (potentially dirty) digital laundry?

Well, obviously the police. And the Ministry of Defence. And the Secret Intelligence Service. And GCHQ (although, according to Snowden they didn't exactly bother waiting for permission). Oh, and the Home Office.

Because - let us not forget - this is all being done to protect us from terrorists.

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, was clear that "The internet presents new opportunities for terrorists and we must ensure we have the capabilities to confront this challenge."

Which is obviously why the Food Standards Agency is one of those 48 bodies.

Wait, what?

Why on Earth would the Food Standards Agency need to access people's internet records??

"The Food Standards Agency is responsible for food safety and food hygiene across the UK"

Food Standards Agency. Terrorism.

So clearly connected.

And the Food Standards Agency is just one of many nonsensical agencies on the list. Common Services Agency for the Scottish Health Service? Check! Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Services Board? Check! Welsh Ambulance Services National Health Service Trust? Also check!

Without a warrant. They just pass their request over to a unit with no oversight and - bang - your internet records are in their hands.

And let's be clear - using terrorism as a hook to hang this on is complete and utter bollocks.

Yes, terrorism is a terrible thing. But the level of clear and present danger it represents is hugely overplayed by the media. Because it sells papers, because it gets people watching the news, because it's a great narrative.

In an average year, about 650 people in the UK die falling down steps or stairs. But it's not a great narrative, so we see very few of those 650 deaths make the papers.

Terrorism is a terrible thing but the fact of the matter is that in the 21st century, more people in UK the have been killed by cows than have been killed by terrorists. If you don't believe me, look it up.

And so I'm more than a little concerned that the government should use 'heightened security' and 'terrorism' as a pretext to completely stripping an entire country of its right to privacy.

And maybe you're thinking well, it's not THAT big of a deal. So, the Food Standards Agency can see how often I order from Domino's pizza. But to do so misses the fact that by accepting this you are accepting a slow erosion of your human right to privacy.

Because make no mistake, this is likely to be just the first step. If people accept this, then the restrictions to freedom are only going to keep coming. How long before we see bans on encryption? How long before our every email, our every message are there to be scrutinised by any government body with even a smidgen of power? How long before we're being told if we've got nothing to hide, we've got nothing to fear?

The Investigatory Powers Bill got through because everyone took their eye off the ball and were to busy frothing about the, then upcoming, Brexit referendum. It got through because we currently have an opposition party - in Labour - that is so utterly lacking in cohesion that it seems more concerned in shooting itself in the foot than doing anything useful to actually oppose. It got through because too few people shouted about how bad this was and even less people listened.

So what can you do now? It's law, after all. Well, what you can do now is to pressure your MPs to put this right. What you can do now is to make sure that - even though the media seemingly aren't interested in you knowing how many of your civil liberties are being stripped away - the word is spread about what is happening in the UK. Because the only people who can make this right, the only people who can pull Britain out of this downward spiral its currently locked into, are you.