The propaganda machine around the UK coalition government’s new online surveillance bill, designed to help law enforcement agencies spy on UK citizens without judicial oversight, is in full flow. The last two weeks have seen advocates from the Conservative party take to the airwaves, putting their views across TV and radio shows in attempt to convince the British public that the bill will help keep children safe from peadophiles and the general public safe from terrorists.
If you’re unfamiliar with what’s been dubbed the ‘snoopers charter’ (or the Communications Capabilities Development Program, more formally) you can read our previous CCDP coverage here. The fact the bill erodes online privacy is indisputable. What’s more interesting (and depressing), is the distinct lack of opposition from the UK’s main political parties.
Flip flops all round
The Liberal Democrats, given their libertarian leanings in the past, should be the ones leading the charge against the CCDP. But now they’re part of the coalition, their hands are tied. Cast your minds back to pre-2010. Throughout the Labour government’s 13-year reign the Liberal Democracts opposed nearly every proposal by the government to increase police powers to monitor online behaviour. Here’s what the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said in 2008 about Labour’s aborted Interception Modernisation Programme – the precursor to the CCDP:
"It is this government that has turned the British public into the most spied upon the planet,” said Clegg during Prime Ministers questions. “1,000 surveillance requests every day, one million innocent people on the DNA database and 5,000 schools now fingerprinting our children. You are creating a surveillance state.“
Is Clegg and his Lib Dems colleagues defending the privacy of UK citizens now that he is in power? Of course not. Apart from a token gesture to seek amendments to bill, ensuring “safeguards are in place”, Clegg has been virtually silent, as has nearly every key Lib Dem politician. In an attempt to avoid avoid rocking the coalition boat, the Lib Dems are once again betraying those who voted for them.
That the Liberal Democrats have flipped flopped on yet another issue shouldn’t come as a surprise. Nor should it be surprising that the country’s main opposition party, The Labour Party, has also remained silent. Afterall they proposed pretty much the same bill when they were power, and wanted to take it even further with a national database. But Labour’s inaction is still disappointing. The party’s leader Ed Miliband has tried to break with some of the more unpopular Labour policies of the past, such as the Iraq war, and even declared during a party conference that: _“I won’t let the Tories or the Liberals take ownership of the British tradition of liberty. I want our party to reclaim that tradition."_ Go on then Ed – here’s your chance.
No, rather the biggest surprise is that the Conservatives are the ones proposing the CCDP. The same Conservatives that opposed Labour’s Information Modernisation Programme on the grounds of civil liberties, and the same David Cameron who in June 2009, when he wasn’t Prime Minister, said: “Today we are in danger of living in a control state. Every month over 1,000 surveillance operations are carried out. The tentacles of the state can even rifle through your bins for juicy information.”
What do they know that we don’t?
I’m not a supporter of conspiracy theories, but it does make you wonder exactly what’s caused parties like the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to pivot so dramatically on this issue once they’ve entered the corridors of power. Does David Cameron now have convincing data from the police that’s caused him to change his mind so enthusiastically? And if so, can we have a look at it too?
There is one politician who still has the balls to stand-up for what he believes in. Conservative David Davis was tireless in his opposition to the erosion of civil liberties during Labour’s reign and - all credit to him - he’s continued to voice his opinion despite his own party’s u-turn on the issue.
If the CCDP is implemented it will be to the detriment of British democracy. No one voted for this bill. New online surveillance legislation was not either of the coalition parties’ election manifestos - in fact, they both preached against such measures. Plus the system that’s needed to carry out the government’s surveillance will cost in excess for £2bn (so much for austerity!). David Davis is the one mainstream politician who has presented the case against the CCDP. But while this personal stand is admirable, the problem still remains that the UK public has been hoodwinked by the Conservative party, disregarded by Labour and abandoned by the Lib Dems.