There comes a moment when even the most avid devotee suffers disillusion. The true socialist had it early on with the whole Blair “project”. It has taken longer for loyal Tories (in part because that is the “stupid party”, but more so because the scales are more encrusted on the eyes).
So this morning the inimitable Paul Staines (by name and by nature) treated his window-lickers to a breakfast treat with this:
Dave’s government is now proposing to allow the security services to monitor every single email, Facebook status update, text and tweet. This is such an about turn, which will ramp up the surveillance state so much, that one wonders if it is deliberately being set out to be defeated. Libertarian Tories and the LibDem left will form a parliamentary coalition against it which a cynical opposition will surely join. The more Machiavellian-minded might suspect that the purpose of the proposal is to be dropped and thereby demonstrate that the government is listening to its backbenchers. Surely when we already have Google already monitoring everything, we hardly need the state to get in the game…
Google is good — it is a regular staple of Malcolmian trawlings — but not that good.
There’s something flattering and weird in itself to assume our ConDem Leaders (who can’t keep a budget secret, unless it’s £1 billion fleeced from OAPs) are capable of being “Machiavellian”. The notion that this bone-headed lot are up for a double-bluff against their own parliamentary support is beyond bizarre.
No. This is an exemplary case of “going native”. As soon as a minister starts to open a red box and find documents headed “top secret” and “for your eyes only”, or even just confidential briefings, the blue mist rises. An epistle from Jonathan Evans at MI5 or (Genuflect! Genuflect! Genuflect!) Richard Dearlove at MI6 means senses of proportion are forever mis-shapen.
Look to the lady
There’s a nice set-to between David Davis (whom God preserve) of Haltemprice and Howden and Theresa May in The Sun. Now, stop sniggering at the back that Murdoch’s phone-hacking organ asks a Daily Mail-type question:
Are GCHQ about to spy on you?
John Rentoul insists such things are the world-famous series of Questions to Which the Answer is No — as of today, up to #783 and counting. Even so, Theresa May’s input is instructive
THE internet is now a part of our daily lives — it’s where we book our holidays, buy our Christmas presents and chat to our friends.
But new technology can also be abused by criminals, paedophiles and terrorists who want to cover their tracks and keep their communication secret.
Right now, the police and security agencies use information from phone records to solve crime and keep us safe.
Looking at who a suspect talks to can lead the police to other criminals. Whole paedophile rings, criminal conspiracies and terrorist plots can then be smashed.
Notice the use of “paedophiles” (stroking a Sun reader’s erogenous zone) and “criminals”.
Hold it there, Terry Girl! They’re not “criminals” until they’ve been incriminated by a court of law. Which brings us to James Brokenshire … parliamentary under secretary of state responsible for crime and security, sixth out of six in the Home Office pecking order, and — sent out yesterday to hold the fort. He came up with a formula: the proposals were not a “snooping exercise”, because they were concerned only with the “who, where and when”.
So, Malcolm wonders, how is the ”who, where and when” relevant without the “what”?
Say Macolm rings for a pizza to a parlour which is under suspicion for … oh, say, drug-dealing. How do the snoopers know whether Malcolm is part of the dastardly doings without checking out his “Two twelve-inch Quattro Formaggi, a dough balls, if you please”?
Anyway, since intercept evidence is apparently not going to be available in Court, what is the purpose of such an all-purpose scanning of decent, law-abiding folk and their daily dealings?
The gorge rises
Staines/Fawkes may be capable of finding obscurantist excuses for this Cameroonie dementia (Heaven knows he’s done it often enough); but he is right that all this is beyond any acceptable bounds.
- But this is Britain, after all.
- We don’t do the surveillance society!
- We don’t do oppression!
- It couldn’t happen here!
Remember, should you doubt, the striking miner at Orgreave, given the full tromping, stamping, and stomping, then arrested and charged with “damage to a policeman’s boot”.
Malcolm had a recent experience, escorting a couple of Californian ladies through Covent Garden. When they looked askance down one darkened side-road, the question timidly came, “Is it safe here?” Malcolm pointed to the CCTV cameras — there were seven in clear sight. Curiously, such over-kill didn’t reassure the ladies.
We could have recited DORA here, and the unspeakable Jix. Or how a later Home Secretary had a young man hanged, despite the urgings to leniency from the jury and the presiding judge, because there was likely to be a vacancy for the premiership, and that Home Secretary fancied his chances, provided his could bolster his law’n'order creeds with the Tory right. Or how another Home Secretary intervened (behind the scenes) in a later capital trial, in part because it eased the Government’s political difficulties in industrial troubles with the medics.
But there’s a stronger clincher.
The Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Acts (Northern Ireland), 1922 to 1943
The Special Powers Act (as it was generally known) remained in place for the full period of Unionist hegemony in Northern Ireland. Although all that time the overall power rested with the Westminster Parliament and the Home Secretary, only after direct rule were the powers revoked.
Hitler was an admirer of the Special Powers Act, and regretted in 1933 that he lacked the ability to introduce similar measures in Germany (he certainly and speedily sorted that small difficulty).
In April 1963, the South African “minister of justice”, Belthazar Johannes Vorster, introduced the Coercion Bill, the nub of the apartheid laws. In making his modest proposals he stated he “would be willing to exchange all the legislation of this sort for one clause of the Northern Ireland Special Powers Act”.
Suck it and see
The Special Powers Act starts:
The civil authority shall have power, in respect of persons, matters and things within the jurisdiction of the Government of Northern Ireland, to take all such steps and issue all such orders as may be necessary for preserving the peace and maintaining order, according to and in the execution of this Act and the regulations contained in the Schedule thereto, or such regulations as may be made in accordance with the provisions of this Act (which regulations, whether contained in the said Schedule or made as aforesaid, are in this Act referred to as “the regulations “):
Provided that the ordinary course of law and avocations of life and the enjoyment of property shall be interfered with as little as may be permitted by the exigencies of the steps required to be taken under this Act.
Which is a pretty wide scope. That latter sentence, in the light of how the Acts were interpreted “on the streets”, is little more than weasel-words.
And then there’s section 25:
No person shall by word of mouth or in writing, or in any newspaper, periodical, book, circular, or other printed publication —
- spread false reports or make false statements; or
- spread reports or make statements intended or likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty, or to interfere with the success of any police or other force acting for the preservation of the peace or maintenance of order in Northern Ireland; or
- spread reports or make statements intended or likely to prejudice the recruiting or enrolment of persons to serve in any police or other force enrolled or employed for the preservation of the peace or maintenance of order in Northern Ireland, or to prejudice the training, discipline, or administration of any such force; and no person shall produce any performance on any stage, or exhibit any picture or cinematograph film, or commit any act which is intended or likely to cause any disaffection, interference or prejudice as aforesaid, and if any person contravenes any of the above provisions he shall be guilty of an offence against these regulations.
If any person without lawful authority or excuse has in his possession or on premises in his occupation or under his control, any document containing a report or statement the publication of which would be a contravention of the foregoing provisions of this regulation, he shall be guilty of an offence against these regulations, unless he proves that he did not know and had no reason to suspect that the document contained any such report or statement, or that he had no intention of transmitting or circulating the document or distributing copies thereof to or amongst other persons.
So Mrs May and Mr Cameron have a ready-drafted Bill.
Merely add the odd reference to electronic communication.