On November 29, 2016 the UK’s Investigatory Powers Bill passed into law by Royal Assent. Many in recent days have tried via an online petition to re-open debate on this bill as a desperate last attempt to stop its progress. I ask those who signed this petition, much less all the celebs in the Tech industry as to where their voices were over the past two+ years as this bill made its way through Parliament and the House of Lords? Once again, a passiveness has been exhibited by the Press, the Electorate and all sorts of Activists as new draconian measures are put into place in the UK Surveillance State. I suggest that this will be the case again as the so-called “Digital Economy Bill” reaches its finalization in the coming weeks. It will soon be time to “reap the whirlwind” that these infringements of Human Rights will bring.
The notion of Personal Privacy aka “The Right to be left alone” dates back centuries in Law and its practice is enshrined in the foundations of all Democracies and Human Rights proclamations. These protections were created well before the invention of digital computing, databases, etc. and yet have been essentially undone in short order since their arrival.
In the very near future, the UK will most likely have passed into law one of the most far reaching efforts ever by any Democracy to spy (and snoop) on each of its citizens, residents & visitors at home, much less abroad; all in the name of Security. Mundanely referred to as the Investigatory Powers Bill (IP Bill) it is widely derided as “The Snooper’s Charter” (and rightfully so). It is a law with literally no purpose other than to legitimize the illegal spying that the UK Government has been engaged in for decades via its Security, Services, while increasing the scope of their activities beyond reason. Promised as necessary (and proportional) to providing Security to the country, it in essence guts everyone’s right to Privacy as far as the State is concerned. Of course, this flies in the face of established Privacy Laws that the Public, Private & Non-Profit sectors are currently held to account for, much less the EU Human Rights Charter, which Brexit will soon undermine, if not eliminate altogether.
Why is the Electorate in the UK being cowed into accepting the false equivalency that; “If you trade away your Privacy to us (the State) we will provide you with Security (and protection)”. It does seem that the average citizen cares little about their personal Privacy today as long as they are safe in their beds away from the clutches of the latest bogy man that the State can conger up. Add to this, the parallel effect observed by users of social media or online shopping where they accept the bargain of; “As long as you offer me some sort of instant gratification, I don’t care about my Privacy one iota (no matter how creepy you act with my data)”. How did the Human Right to Privacy become so easily traded away by almost the entire population? The root cause of this effect can be found in data that is all around us and you don’t’ need to be a so-called Data Scientist to figure it out.
We now live in a world that is awash in data. We create it as individuals during ever moment of our lives and consume even more of it from various sources and services that we seek out. There is so much data about us that is collected, processed, sold and exploited that we have become oblivious to the entire process. It is as if there were an invisible anesthetic in the air that numbs our senses to the fact that something a very wrong with all of this. Privacy is a right, that until recently has been fiercely protected and a line that few Governments’ have been willing to cross in respect to monitoring their citizen’s (at least publicly). Now, it is only an afterthought that arises when some egregious act or data breach is exposed by the press or on social media and everyone sounds off about how violated they feel (all the while creating more new data to be exploited by others). We now have a Perfect Storm of events where Privacy as a right (or in the US as a Civil Liberty) is lost in the conversation, while everyone focuses myopically on National Security or the pursuit of the latest game (Pokemon Go comes to mind) or app (Facebook is a constant in being the worst offender). The Individuals’ right to Privacy has become an insignificant consideration, much less an afterthought.
As the UK plans its exit from the EU, the notion of Privacy will be further eroded as the State will focus all its attention on Sources of Commerce & Trade, Border Security & Immigration. These negotiations will be another opportunity for Privacy Rights to be further traded away in return for hollow promises of gold or enhanced security. In the end it should be clear to all members of the Electorate that not only did the UK sleepwalk its way out of the EU, but it sacrificed the notion of personal privacy along the journey. There will be no way to put this Jeanie back in the bottle once this happens regardless of which party is leading Government.
This article in an edited version first appeared in the September 2016 issue of Information Age (www.information-age.com).