piecemeal rearguard action vs a full-blown bill of rights: why we must forget the #snooperscharter

Cameron & Co are certainly showing their true colours.  From waiting on the death of a key witness, whose presence was much required in the much hobbled child sex abuse inquiry, to this weekend’s news about the return of the #snooperscharter, they aren’t half effectively managing their unhappy politics.

Open Rights Group informs us thus:

The Counter Terrorism and Security Bill is being debated on Monday, but suddenly it’s turned into a totally different beast. Four peers have decided to insert the Snoopers’ Charter into the law, as 18 pages of amendments.

The amendments are nearly identical in form to the draft Communications Data Bill, which was previously scrutinized by a parliamentary committee who concluded that it was inappropriate. All the problems with the Snoopers’ Charter – that its figures were “fanciful and misleading,” that it, “pays insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy,” are still there.

Laying 18 pages of amendments before the Lords to insert the Snoopers’ Charter into an already complicated Bill is an abuse of our democratic system. The Lords cannot have time to properly consider the bill, and would deny the Commons the opportunity to consider the clauses as well.

Meanwhile, Paul makes many similarly useful observations – and even EFF quite rightly gets in on the act.

I am, myself, minded to take another route thought.

Tech, whether surveillance tech or consumer tech, whether state or private sector, has analogous relationships with parliaments and legislative bodies everywhere.  As long ago as the late 1970s, good people were warning of the risks:

The Rockford Files in 1978

And yet, even so, tech culture (Google, Apple, Facebook etc) was allowed to develop faster than people were allowed or able to legislate.

I’d argue, therefore, that in a parallel way, the laws which have been drafted and passed to provide oversight of surveillance culture – at least here in Britain – have done little to lead current or previous practice and everything to weakly follow the same.

The yardstick being that if it’s in a bill of Parliament, they’re already doing it anyway.

If the #snooperscharter gets passed before the next general election in May, hidden amongst clever, sneaky or abusive amendments in a symbiotic or parasitical way (depending on your point of view, of course), the failure to stop it will be little more than symbolic.  Even if good, grand people and organisations like ORG, EFF and Paul do manage to prevent it, its prevention will only stop institutions which act entirely within the law from continuing their shady behaviours.  Those actions which take place, which have taken place and which will continue to take place in the future – in the quite extra-legal circumstances which befit the sector we’re discussing – will continue to operate extra-legally, as if nothing had changed or been implemented.

This is why I’m saying we need to accept the #snooperscharter as a done deal, much as the Googles and Facebooks of the world have bulldozered through much of European privacy legislation in the past.  Yes.  There are useful things, markers in the sand we can draw I suppose, that piecemeal rearguard activities can achieve – but they continue, as I’ve already said, to be more symbolic than real.

The circumstances are such that it’s no longer surveillance legislation we need to address but surveillance culture.  Good government can only work, taxes can only be cooperatively collected, when people trust they have the best governance that civilisation is capable of offering.

Tech-located laws which follow, which rubber-stamp decades later, underhand practices in both private and public sectors are not the best way of offering a better governance.

Nor are they examples of good and honest lawmaking.

We need a much broader instrument to deal with the preoccupying collapse of good governance in the Western world.

That instrument, I suggest, should be a sweepingly explicit Bill of Rights which re-establishes, for everyone to see, feel and absorb, the importance of privacy to the good functioning of a liberal society.

A liberal society can only exist when the levels of trust and privacy are high.

At the moment this is not the case – and liberal society is not what we have.

So whilst it’s fine – on occasions – to fight rearguard with rearguard, it’d be far more intelligent, useful and constructive to fight that manifest lack of liberal culture we find almost everywhere with the undeniable touchstone a liberal Bill of Rights could represent.


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