The Rise of a Surveillance State

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by Yllka Krasniqi

In the age of technology, invasion of privacy is dangerous. When many people use their phones, laptops, iPads and other tech gadgets everyday across the UK, we would assume that only we are able to read our messages and emails. It seems that this may be coming to an end with Theresa May introducing the Investigatory Powers Bill, or more commonly known as the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ to spy on innocent citizens.

The ‘Snooper’s Charter’ gives the intelligence services, such as GCHQ and the police the license to harvest/collect an unprecedented amount of information on British citizens for 12 months. Although Theresa May argues that GCHQ will not track the content of users’ data, but instead will be able to access the location and time/date of a communication. Slowly, GCHQ alongside the government will be able to build up a picture of any person’s life through a back door into their computer. What seems to be more frightening is, as privacy campaigners declare, that not only can the government store data in bulk but legitimise the ability to turn on microphones and cameras through phones and laptops. The ‘Snooper’s Charter’ seems to be eerily reminiscent of the methods used under 20th century’s totalitarian regimes. The subtle and slow construction of an Orwellian state may be emerging, without widespread knowledge or public approval.

This controversial piece of legislation does not sit well with human rights. The right to privacy and freedom of expression is enshrined in the British constitution. The increase of state surveillance through the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ flies in the face of these key human rights. Britain has been built on the foundations of freedom as seen with the Magna Carta of 1215. This would clearly be undermined by the introduction of these surveillance measures.

Why would the government undertake such extreme mass surveillance measures? The central premise is to disrupt terrorist and criminal activities and child grooming gangs. No one can argue that this is not desired by all in society. However, sacrificing the right to privacy of everyone is clearly unjustifiable. Jim Killock, director of Open Rights Group, rightly argues that the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ will enable the government and intelligence service to “treat us all as suspects.” The inherent paranoia and suspicion of the government for its citizens will increase substantially as any sense of opposition will permit the instant access of a citizen’s communication data.

Advocates of the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ would argue that there should be nothing to hide for from the intelligence services. With no illegal or criminal activity, innocent citizens should not fear this legislation. Whilst personal data may not be dangerous or harmful to national security, it must not be trivialised. The tracking and storage of personal data contains fragments of people’s lives, with communication connecting families and friends across the world. Prying on this, is akin to the police or GCHQ standing in your room every time a conversation between a friend, sibling or parent takes place. Imagine, for one moment, a police officer straining to listen outside your front door and spying on every conversation that has been held within your house. For many, this sounds uncomfortable even if they have nothing to hide. It will unconsciously make us rethink what we do or say, which will most certainly pave the way for the rise of a surveillance state – if we do not oppose May’s flagship policy.

The ‘Snooper’s Charter’ raises serious questions for its lack of accountability. It is clear that there would be a slow erosion of trust between the public and government. Plato said, ‘Who will watch over the Guardians’? which is relevant in questioning who will rein in the power of the government agencies. Edward Snowden, NSA whistle-blower, attacks the Investigatory Bill as ‘the most intrusive and least ac- countable surveillance regime in the West’. It is difficult to disagree with Snowden as GCHQ will intercept every call, email, text in Britain.

As Theresa May pushes ahead with the Snooper’s Charter, she must be met with strong opposition.