Yesterday, browsing the BBC website, knowing it was April Fool's Day, an article caught my eye that I couldn't believe would ever be possibly true. In it, I read that under a new legislation set to be announced soon, the government will be able to monitor the calls, emails, texts and website visits of everyone in the UK.
This means that internet firms will be required to give intelligence agency GCHQ access to communications on demand, in real time. And it's no joke - we're moving towards to a country where even when we put the bins out, they're immediately swarmed over by members of an intelligence agency - all in the name of "public safety".
The legislation will allow GCHQ intelligence officers to identify who an individual or group is in contact with, how often and for how long. They will also be able to see which websites someone had visited. It'll be legal if it becomes law and this should be fought every step of the way, in the streets if needed. At first, I thought this story had the whiff of a Sunday newspaper filler about it, then today's Independent papers ran with it on their front pages and it's important that all of us are wholly against this, just like anything else which curtails civil liberties and freedom of speech.
Before someone says it, because I think that removal of civil liberties is a bad thing, does not mean that I am up to something nefarious. For most people, it's a case of an intelligence agency knowing that you spend too much time on Twitter, watch a lot of porn and have a secret obsession with wrestling. But on the whole, this law is not focusing on terrorists or on criminals. They don't need this law to protect us. This is an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary innocent people in vast numbers. Frankly, they shouldn't have that power. You shouldn't go beyond that in a decent, civilised society but that is what is being proposed.
I kind of already assumed they could do this stuff anyway, checking for use of keywords etc. But 99% of the population steer away from nonceing and terrorism sites so therefore our freedom should not be compromised. On the other hand, one could perhaps suggest that the Government must have something to hide if it is so VERY worried about the real-time communications of every single person in the country. It's just another rape of liberty, pure and simple.
Rumours have abounded for several years of a massive system designed to intercept virtually all email and fax traffic in the world and subject it to automated analysis, despite laws in many nations (including this one) barring such activity. The laws were circumvented by a mutual pact among five nations. It's illegal for the United States to spy on it's citizens. Likewise the same for Great Britain. But under the terms of the UKUSA agreement, Britain spies on Americans and America spies on British citizens and the two groups trade data. Technically, it may be legal, but the intent to evade the spirit of the laws protecting the citizens of those two nations is clear.
The system is called ECHELON, and had been rumored to be in development since 1947, the result of the UKUSA treaty signed by the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It's as if the more we allow our governments to 'protect our freedoms', the more freedoms they actually take away from us. It sounds like a storyline in a Jason Bourne film. While we're at it let's get rid of that pesky "innocent until proven guilty" thingymabob, it just gets in the way of keeping law and order.
I will be prepared to take to the streets in protest if this happens and I hope that you will do too. This fucking government gives me bloody brainache. The Lib Dems, a party whose fundamental and somewhat promising ideologies seem like decades ago, have allowed laws like this just like they've been content enough to take a back seat whilst making up the numbers in the Coalition.
If their MPs vote for this, I will be fucking disgusted. We didn't vote for the Coalition, nor Gordon, either, so that's two in a row who get in without being democratically elected, destroying some of the most important rights that this country should be so proud of - don't even get me started on the NHS.
Yet, this latest plan didn't originally come from the Conservatives nor the Coalition. It began as a 2008 proposal by Labour. A party "of the people" who also gave us ID Card, DNA databases, RIPA, a flawed extradition treaty with the US, turned a blind eye to extraordinary rendition through Prestwich airport and drove tanks onto the tarmac of Heathrow Airport just to prove a point about locking up anyone who looked at them funny. So I'm even more sorry to realise that it seems nobody in politics has any interest in protecting civil liberties.
Frankly, they're all unelectable. And yet we always end up with one of them. Belgium managed without 'political leadership' for a whole while, perhaps we should look into that, rather than taking the best of an absolute stack of shite each time. If we vote against these changes, either they are defeated (plenty Tories will also vote against, you'd hope) or they pass with Labour support. There is absolutely no good reason for Lib Dem MPs to vote in favour of this disgusting assault on liberty. It wasn't in the Coalition agreement and I'm sure the Tories made noises about repealing this before getting into government.
Resource depletion, crippling debt, worldwide population explosion and climate change - it's a surprise anyone would want to have kids nowadays. Our putative children and grandchildren literally are going to have nothing left. Benjamin Franklin hit the nail on the head: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." He was right. This is wrong on so many levels that only someone with a vested interest would be for it. The only positive that the GCHQ spying on the entire UK data traffic could highlight that they must be signed up to a bloody amazing ISP. Sign me up with those guys please. No wonder the rest of the UK suffer with poor download speeds.
I hope to God they have to jump through a hundred hoops before it is even given. However, since the council can now use terrorism laws to use CCTV to spy on rowdy neighbours, I fear the worst. It's not the first time a law like this has been in the pipeline, but the odd thing is, when Tony Blair tried to introduce this back in 2006, the Tories shouted him down. Orwellian times we are living in, indeed.
The best thing we can do write now would be to write to our MPs. But if the rumours that the GCHQ are already accessing our e-mails already true, let's bcc them with all our emails. Try them at email@example.com. We can save the security services their valuable time by making sure we start to CC GCHQ on every email we send. We can help them not waste precious hours and minutes by not using the words 'bomb', 'terrorist' or 'riot' in our emails. Or, on the other hand, let's beat the snoopers by writing complete gibberish. I've actually been doing this for years. If that works for you, it works for me.
At least we can all protect our my thoughts if we all wear our Bacofoil hats. Oh and if you're reading this at GCHQ, Cameron, I've pissed in your Moet. Every single bottle.
Follow Ronnie Joice on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ronniejoice