Last week, the British Government announced emergency legislation making Internet service providers (ISPs) and phone networks collect phone call, text and Internet history browsing data. The legislation is being pushed through Parliament with very little debate, meaning many of those MPs voting on it will not be familiar with the facts.
As a rule of thumb, call me kooky if you will, but I prefer my politicians to be educated on the subjects they vote upon which affect my life. This is not something that should be pushed through at the blink of an eye, as it is something which is quite profound.
Whenever a move like this occurs, there is a contingent of society who say, 'I'm not doing anything illegal, so why should I care?' It's a good question. Why be outraged if you are not a terrorist?
Firstly, we all have a right to privacy. Article 8 of the Human Rights Act (which the British Government has signed up to) states, "Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence." That element of respect has disappeared with the emergency legislation, especially considering that it is being rushed through Parliament without the thorough debate it is due.
Secondly, blanket surveillance of the entire population is not going to pinpoint terrorists - it's too much data to analyse effectively. Of course we should be monitoring those who pose a risk to our country, but this should be done on a targeted basis. When the authorities are suspicious of an individual, they should snoop on them. The vast majority of us have done nothing to warrant the intrusion into our privacy. We are citizens of this country, not members who accepted a series of terms and conditions. We have not voted in these politicians to act outside of our own interests.
Further to this argument is that politicians are not in the best place to make decisions on who should be a target of surveillance. This is the job of the judiciary - people trained in the rights of the British. Consider this, the Home Secretary Theresa May has now held the role for four years - this tends to be the maximum an MP holds the role for. May's four years of experience can hardly match the decades which judges have under their belts. This also eradicates the risk of politicians making decisions based on votes, rather than the facts.
This is just the start
The Internet is still in its relative infancy. We use it now is very different to how we were using it ten years ago and it will continue to evolve. The laws we set out now will define Internet usage in years to come. We need to start out on the right footing. Using it as a surveillance tool means we are stumbling already.
It may sound extreme, but just imagine what would have occurred if the Stasi had access to the German public's phone records. Bad people don't only join terrorist groups, some join political parties.
Breaching the European Convention on Human Rights and ignoring the findings of the European Court of Justice does not put Britain in a position to preach to others and it is not leading by example.
The Internet is one of the most marvellous inventions of our lifetime. We all should have the right to digital freedom; to be able to use the Internet without being hacked or tracked. It is sadly ironic that one of the groups trying to erode these rights is our own elected government.