A Bill giving the UK intelligence agencies and police the most sweeping surveillance powers in the western world was passed last month with barely a whimper. The Investigatory Powers Act legalises a range of ‘chess moves’ for snooping and hacking, unmatched even by the US. Whilst the US passed a modest Bill last year, the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential presidential election, and indeed the limited opposition in the UK, means surveillance powers are set to mount. Britain leading the way.
One of the oversights is that the legislation fails to provide adequate protection for journalists’ sources, which could discourage whistleblowing. What does this mean for the rest of us? The UK now has surveillance law most suited to a dictatorship. The UK has unprecedented powers to monitor and analyse UK citizens’ communications regardless of whether we we are suspected of any criminal identity. Forget the word ‘privacy’.
What does privacy mean? Consider surveillance of people who are thinking, reading and communicating with others to conclude on a particularly sensitive political or social issue. Surveillance deters people from experimenting with new, controversial or deviant ideas. It deters creativity of thought. A further threat is the power dynamic between the watcher watcher and the watched. This disparity creates the risk of a variety of harms, such as discrimination, coercion and selective enforcement, where critics of the government can be prosecuted or blackmailed for wrongdoing unrelated to the purpose of the surveillance.
It’s difficult to pinpoint a movement that defines the Millennial generation- perhaps the freedom of privacy is one? As Orwell (1984) wrote: ‘Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull’.