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The latest evidence that GCHQ’s systematic electronic harvesting of information went far beyond what the law allowed — and it was acutely well aware of this — is certainly troubling, but perhaps not surprising.
The mood and culture in Britain today in the use of power is push your advantage to the limit and beyond — so long as you can get away with it.
Deregulation masquerading as the removal of red tape is all the fashion, the law is there to be circumvented if you can and conscience and justice don’t really fit into our fast-moving commercialised world.
If it were GCHQ alone, that would be bad enough.
But the last four years have seen every institution of trust tarnished if not disgraced — the banks, the media, the police, the politicians and now the security services.
It isn’t just austerity that is now biting hard, it’s the painful awareness of the huge accountability deficit that affects every part of the power structure.
We now know — but only thanks to Edward Snowden — that GCHQ knowingly perpetrated a mass surveillance programme for which there was no adequate legal authorisation and then sought to stifle any public debate which might generate a challenge under privacy laws. However it has not admitted how far it was operating beyond or outside the law.
GCHQ used a clandestine security electronic surveillance programme called Tempora to gain access to large amounts of internet users’ personal data.
The large telecoms companies lied in response to the Tempora revelations by declaring they simply complied with the law when in fact they far exceeded what the law provided for.
And we now know that the Home Office and GCHQ campaigned to reject the use of intercepts as evidence, not, as they said at the time, because of the risk to national security but because it would expose how far they had gone beyond the law, including accessing communications networks abroad.
The governance of Britain’s power institutions has all but collapsed.
The feeble and ineffective intelligence and security committee should be swept away and replaced by a powerful select committee responsible to Parliament, not the executive.
Also a major restructuring of the dysfunctional banking, hedge fund and shadow banking system is needed which will break up the Big Five and ensure that banking sticks to its real function of lending to British industry and householders and not seeking self-serving enrichment through tax avoidance, overseas speculation and securitised derivatives.
The media should be dragged back to their true function as a genuinely free press which is holding power to account, not tycoon propaganda based on ownership of great wealth.
The manifold abuses revealed in current police activities requires renewed governance to be recommended by a far-reaching inquiry into police ethics and standards.
The politicians, badly tarnished by the expenses scandal but failing even more in their duty to hold the executive effectively to account, require a major constitutional conference into the composition of Parliament and how patronage and careerism must be subordinated to the public’s demands for securing accountability.
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