ISSN 2330-717X

Big Brother Threatens Britons’ Rights – OpEd

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By Sergei Sayenko

The British government may soon pass a law under which it will be able to monitor phone calls, emails, website visits of everyone in the UK, BBC reports.

The new law may be announced in the Queen’s speech in May. If the bill is passed, the state agencies, first of all the UK Government Communications Headquarters, and MI5 counter-intelligence, will get access to emails, phone calls and instant messages of British residents.

The Home Office says that the approval of such a law is crucial for tackling organized crime and terrorism. On the contrary, the opponents and human rights activists say the new law will violate people’s right to privacy and legalize the government’s spying upon its own citizens. Among the opponents there are even members of the ruling coalition – conservatives and liberal democrats. For example, here is a statement made by a Tory MP and former shadow Home Secretary David Davis

“Historically governments have been kept out of our private lives. Our freedom and privacy has been protected by using the courts by saying, “If you want to intercept, if you want to look at something, fine, if it is a terrorist or a criminal go and ask a magistrate and you’ll get your approval.” You shouldn’t go beyond that in a decent, civilized society.”

The British rights activists have a very negative attitude towards the law. In particular, Nick Pickles, director of campaign group Big Brother Watch said that the move was “an unprecedented step that will see Britain adapt the same kind of surveillance seen in China and Iran”. Shami Chakrabarti, director of the Liberty organization, ironically said that the plan was “more ambitious than anything that has been done before” and a “pretty drastic step in a democracy”.

By the way, this is not for the first attempt to adopt such a law in Britain. In 2006, the Labor government tried to do it but faced huge opposition of Tories and Liberal Democrat who are now actually in power. 18 months ago the topic came to the fore again when the government raised the question of monitoring emails and phone calls in the Strategic Defense and Security Review but soon its public discussion faded out.

If the Queen voices the plan in her May speech the discussion will be brought to a new level and it is quite likely that the law will be adopted and come into force in the near future.

Will such a law become an efficient tool to fight organized crime and terrorism? This is another question. But it is obvious that it will be a step towards turning the UK into a police state. The question which is still open is how will the provisions of the new law on total monitoring of phone calls and emails of British people match the traditional principles of democracy and freedom of speech, the UK residents have always been so proud of?

VOR

VOR, or the Voice of Russia, was the Russian government's international radio broadcasting service from 1993 until 2014, when it was reorganised as Radio Sputnik.

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