Our Right To Privacy Is Being Violated

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by Emilia Brown, 

What if we were to tell you that your right to privacy is actively being violated as you are reading these lines? Governments around the world are able to know your internet searches, who you’ve called, who you’ve emailed, where your phone has been located, and what internet games you’ve played, amongst a number of other surveillance measures they do not need.

With Theresa May’s proposed ‘Draft Investigatory Powers Bill’, nicknamed ‘Snooper’s Charter’, surveillance in the UK is set to be the most invasive in the democratic world. Not only does the collection of this bulk data treat us all like criminals, but if put into the wrong hands, could put us in serious danger. It is an abuse of our human rights.

The 299-page Draft Bill states that communications companies must store the internet browsing history of all their customers for a year. This will include cafes, libraries and even universities. The United Nations has stated that the terms of the Bill ‘unduly interfere with the rights to privacy, freedom of opinion and expression … both inside and outside the United Kingdom’. Strong criticisms have also come from companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and Microsoft, while Apple has stated that the proposed law could lead to ‘serious international conflicts’.

Shami Chakrabarti, LSE alumna and director of Liberty, a leading human rights organisation, believes the Bill gives the state ‘a blank cheque’ to spy on citizens, and could threaten the ability of journalists to do investigative work. Liberty’s written evidence on the Bill says that this level of mass surveillance, which includes bulk interception, bulk communications data acquisition, bulk hacking and the acquisition of Bulk Personal Datasets, is ‘unnecessary, disproportionate, counter-productive and a stain on our human rights record’.

Not only is there a lack of transparency surrounding the acquisition and use of mass surveillance data, with only a handful of MPs knowing the extent of previous surveillance, but there is no real value for money. The Snooper’s Charter is likely to far exceed the £240m estimated cost, and numerous phone companies have testified that each company could spend that amount alone on implementing the proposed law. With the vast majority of data having no real use, it calls into question whether this money could have been better spent.

Commencing on 8 February, LSESU Amnesty International Society is launching an Anti-Mass Surveillance Campaign, where we call for our human right to privacy. This will start with a screening of Citizenfour, which tells the inspiring story of Edward Snowden, who in 2013 sacrificed the comfort of his life to uncover how governments are violating our privacy. On Wednesday 10th, we are then hosting a workshop on how to protect yourself and safeguard your personal data online. This will be run by Ed Johnson-Williams, from the Open Rights Group, a digital campaigning organisation. On Thursday, we welcome speakers Anthony Glees, a professor of Politics at the University of Buckingham and director of its Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, and Harmit Kambo, Director of Campaigns & Development at Privacy International, an organisation committed to fighting for the right to privacy across the world, to debate the issue. This will examine the advantages and risks of mass surveillance. The panel will be chaired by Andrew Murray, Professor of Law with particular reference to New Media and Technology at the LSE. We will also be handing out information and fundraising outside the SU on campus from Monday to Thursday. For more information, find us on Facebook at ‘Anti-Mass Surveillance Campaign, LSESU Amnesty International Society’.

Please join us as we call for more transparent surveillance laws, and our right to privacy.

Emilia Brown