Britain’s Terryfying New Surveillance Laws – “nothing to do with fighting terrorism”

25th November 2016 / Surveillance, UK Civil Liberties and Rights Newscast, United Kingdom

By Graham Vanbergen – I have been saying for a long time now that the British government is forcing unprecedented new surveillance laws and expanding its illegal spying operations over its own population (and others), without court orders or proper oversight. Its purpose is nothing to do with fighting terrorism.

Human rights groups in Britain campaigning against mass surveillance and the new Investigatory Powers Bill have said “There is no other democracy in the world, possibly no other country in the world, doing this.”

Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo have strongly criticised these powers as even they can see where these draconian authoritarian powers are going. Eventually, the full degrading of encrypted services will lead to a massive fall in trust in their business operations, not that any of them are to be trusted in the first place.

Democracy has failed the people of Britain yet again. Labour, in opposition, ended up fully supporting these new powers.  Even Shami Chakrabarti, the British Labour Party politician and newly ascended member of the House of Lords, former director of Liberty, an advocacy group which promotes civil liberties and human rights lay completely silent. Her credibility built up over a decade lies in tatters having abandoned her principles by abstaining, effectively supporting the bill. And why did Labour support the bill?  Their pathetic self-serving excuse was that the government had agreed to include protection from state surveillance for trade union activities. How naive. GCHQ have been spying on them all for years, why would they stop now? For a promise? Idiots!

(Summary (Services Parliament UK) of the Investigatory Powers Bill: A Bill to make provision about the interception of communications, equipment interference and the acquisition and retention of communications data, bulk personal datasets and other information; to make provision about the treatment of material held as a result of such interception, equipment interference or acquisition or retention; to establish the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and other Judicial Commissioners and make provision about them and other oversight arrangements; to make further provision about investigatory powers and national security; to amend sections 3 and 5 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994; and for connected purposes.) 

What you don’t know is that the government included a section in the new law that actually criminalises “unauthorized disclosures” of any information relating to its new surveillance orders. This has been designed to stop whistleblowers or leakers from coming forward and revealing wrongdoing by our own government, police and security services. Punishment for breaches is a prison sentence of up to 12 months, a fine, or both. How’s that for democracy. Prison for revealing that the British government is breaking it’s own laws!

What you also don’t know is that these laws give the government powers to surveil journalists in complete secrecy. Contacts and sources are no longer protected. The MP’s expenses scandal would never have come to light under these laws. Journalists and their anonymous sources who broke this story would be behind bars, careers and lives ruined. That’s what this government, under Theresa May wants, to stop stories about the antics of politicians and bankers, offshore tax havens and other scandals negatively affecting a population who just voted against the establishment under the guise of Brexit.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)  have launched a major challenge. The government’s response is to dismantle the those laws in favour of its own rules with a so called ‘British Bill of Rights’. Make no mistake, it will trample all over our civil liberties and rights as they have already demonstrated with this Bill.

Many citizens believe that because everyone in the UK is being surveilled then nobody in particular is being targeted and that if you are doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear – how wrong everyone is.

The mainstream media went into frenzied overdrive when it came to a Heinz baked beans advert which sought to teach viewers how to bang the can like a drum, which has been banned over fears people might cut their hands (supported with just 15 complaints). The commercial showed people drumming on Heinz Beanz tins to play the rhythm of a song with the strapline “Learn the #CanSong”. The same MSM have largely remained silent over the crushing of civil liberties and any last vestiges of privacy for the entire population, and therefore, there has been no public outcry as there has been for banning a song about a baked bean can.

The government and their agencies have access to everything you do from the second your alarm clock wakes you (if you use a mobile phone) to the time you go to sleep. Every website, every app, what subscriptions you pay for, how much you earn, what you spend it on, any personal suspicions you may have about your health, relationships, working environment, your friends and family and acquaintances. They don’t need your passwords. It gets worse though.

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If you search google for an embarrassing health issue or join the 3 million who called the NHS 111 service, the government knows. It knows if you, a friend or an acquaintance of yours has joined a protest group objecting to say, fracking. You are implicated by your friends. Facebook tried to sell on-line lenders credit scores by ‘judging’ American borrowers’ creditworthiness. Thankfully, it failed, but not for trying. What do you think the government will attempt to do assisted by these ubiquitous and often nefarious corporations whoring themselves as they do today for a buck?

Local government can now hunt you down for non payment of council tax or parking/speeding fines or non payment of tax to HMRC, which they have already been doing. Even the Food Standards Agency and Gambling Commission, police, military, secret services, British Transport Police, Dept of Health, Dept for Work and Pensions, Health and safety Executive – all, and many more, will have access at will to your personal data. They will know through location data how fast you were driving, where you went and who you met, and if they so desire, what you discussed. You should be truly shocked by now. There should be a realisation by now what the government thinks about you and that you are personally under suspicion.

The minimum office or rank that each person within those organisations must be if they want access to your records is not high. In the police, any viewer must be an inspector or a superintendent, for instance. Or a manager in the aforementioned list. There are hundreds of thousands of individuals who can now peer into your world completely undetected. You have no idea who that person might be or what they want. The government has little oversight into managing it.

About 5.5 million people work in the public sector in Britain, that is exactly one quarter of the entire working population in full time work. Imagine that your job application to the local council was turned down because a ‘friend’ on Facebook attended a protest march against a much despised project such as HS2, or that you searched Google for cancer symptoms, or depression, even if the search was for a parent or relative? Fancy having a mortgage loan declined, not because you’re not creditworthy, but because you had a dispute when HMRC wrongly assessed your annual tax as they did with 4 million people last year. With the continual privatisation of Britain’s NHS will insurance companies discriminate against your health issues? Of course they will. Will this be extended to house or car insurance, of course it will – eventually.

Cybercrime against the population will soar. In America, there is an epidemic of hackers who have stolen tens of millions of healthcare records and sold them to the highest bidders. In Britain, since the beginning of 2016 there has been a sharp spike in the number of extortion attempts against hospitals using ransomware. The police won’t reveal the extent of the attacks or what information may have been taken but its a ransom, so its serious.

A few years back HMRC lost the very personal records of 25 million British children, the Police lost details of witnesses with links to serious criminal investigations, a safety assessment of a nuclear power plant in north-east England was lost, the Dept for Work and Pension lost the data of millions of passwords and personal data. How does the government think it has any chance of protecting the very personal and intimately private details of the entire population from hackers (and corporations who would pay dearly for such information). The answer is simple, they can’t.

Private corporations such as Internet Service Providers or ISP’s will be storing most of this data, and their record of data security is just as abysmal. Hackers robbed the bank account details of thousands from Vodafone, 6 million had private data at risk from 3 Mobile this year, BT, Sky Broadband and Yahoo – all victims to hacking attacks, the latter losing 500 million accounts worldwide in just one attack.

Should we be worried that the government has explicitly legalised intelligence agencies and the police the interference with (ie. hacking) your electronic equipment by covertly downloading the contents of your phone or remotely accessing your computer, or downloading spyware/malware that at the least will damage the equipment itself. Or that they now oblige communications companies to hand over full and detailed records of data and remove encryption when requested – at will, or indeed that they can create warrants for authorities to examine “Bulk Data Sets” such as medical records and tax histories without going to court.

Former MP and lecturer at the University of Cambridge, Julian Huppert has called the Bill “terrifying.” He said on openDemocracy: “Some of the powers in the Bill are deeply intrusive, and with very little possible justification. All of us want to be safe, and protected from terrorists and the like – but the evidence that these powers are needed is thin indeed. However, the cost to all of our privacy is huge.”

Let’s be clear, this is all of Theresa May’s doing in her disastrous role at the Home Office. Britain is adopting a closed, nationalistic and authoritarian approach of government which is supported by both political parties. Your chances of being killed by a terrorist in Britain is lower than being killed by your toaster. But your chances of being personally negatively affected by your government have just increased dramatically. At the very least the government has just changed your private behaviours because now you know you are being watched all the time, just as if an agent was standing over your shoulder.

Welcome to the panopticon, you deserve everything you didn’t bother fighting for. Your grandparents did though and so did theirs. Wake up for god’s sake!

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