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The rise of the security state

STEVEN WALKER examines the steady erosion of our civil liberties

War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.

This slogan from George Orwell's seminal book 1984 is a chilling reminder of the slippery slope towards a neofascist state predicted by the author, who described a "Big Brother" surveillance of citizens.

The book was published in 1949 as a glimpse into a dystopian future.

Sixty years later it was revealed in 2009 that Britain had more CCTV cameras observing us than any other European state.

And 30 years after the eponymous date of 1984, all the ingredients for such a society are already in place.

For example, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa) allows local councils to set up covert surveillance to entrap people alleged to have committed trivial civil offences.

Over 500 public authorities from the smallest district council to huge Whitehall departments such as the DWP and HMRC can use this legislation to snoop on the public.

Currently NHS patients are being offered the chance to opt out of the new CareData medical system earmarked for full operation later this year.

The system will permit the sharing and selling of sensitive and confidential information held on their medical records with private insurance companies and drugs manufacturers.

Former CIA analyst Edward Snowden and the WikiLeaks revelations show the astonishing measures working globally to monitor the behaviour and attitudes of everyone.

Snowden lifted the lid on Tempora, an electronic surveillance programme operated by Britain's eavesdropping agency GCHQ.

The project uses intercepts on fibre-optic cables entering and leaving Britain, gathering vast amounts of communications content and data.

The civil rights group Liberty, in conjunction with several other international human rights organisations, has issued a claim in the investigatory powers tribunal against GCHQ, MI5 and MI6.

The campaigners believe it is likely that the British intelligence services have used Tempora to monitor their private communications - either being sent to, received from, transferred via or processed in Britain.

This is particularly so given their work on human rights and counter-terrorism.

Liberty argues that the interference with its clients' communications is a breach of Article 8 (the right to respect for their private and family life) and Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

 

Ripa is meant to protect citizens against unwarranted intrusion into their private lives, but there is no clear framework for stopping Tempora's collection and storage of such vast amounts of communications.

In response to revelations that a US government programme known as Prism gives the US National Security Agency unprecedented access to the servers of major technology companies, an international group of civil liberties organisations, including Liberty, issued the following joint statement last year:

"Recent reports indicate that the US government has the ability to acquire and monitor the content of communications and other electronic data, including location data, from international users of popular internet services in real time.

"That capability allows for the monitoring of the communications, movements and associations of countless people around the world.

"Such vast and pervasive state surveillance violates two of the most fundamental human rights - the right to privacy and to freedom of expression.

"Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights requires that 'no-one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence' and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights grants similar protections.

"The Prism programme sweeps in such an enormous amount of personal information that it cannot comply with those standards.

"Prism also threatens the right to freedom of expression, the right to hold opinions without interference and the rights to seek, receive and impart information.

"International law also requires that states provide legal protections to guarantee against interference or attacks on individual privacy.

"The United States steadfastly refuses to comply with these international obligations and end its extraordinary intrusion into the lives of billions around the world."

Meanwhile in Britain another erosion of public accountability is now in place to enable secret courts to sit after the Justice and Security Act became law in 2013.

Secret material - never disclosed to the claimant, let alone public or press - can now routinely be used to defend serious allegations.

The only people allowed to be present in such cases are a judge, the government itself and a government-appointed special advocate.

The latest revelations about state surveillance is prompting people to upload anonymity tools to their computers. Globally 56 per cent of those surveyed by GlobalWebIndex reported that they felt the internet is being used to erode their privacy, with an estimated 415 million people, or 28 per cent of the global online population, using tools to attempt to disguise their identity or location.

However, given the audacious measures already being used, these efforts are likely to be easily subverted by governments determined to gain more and more control over their citizens.

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