Monday, 29 June 2015

Peace, democracy, tolerance and freedom?

The attacks carried out by terrorists and murderers this weekend in Tunisia, Kuwait and France are appalling and distressing for the families and friends of those killed and injured. Those who witnessed the attacks will also be suffering trauma, and I hope they can all recover over time.

In his response to the attacks, David Cameron has said:

"To our shock and grief we must add another word: resolve. Unshakable resolve. We will stand up for our way of life...We must be stronger at standing up for our values - of peace, democracy, tolerance, freedom. We must be more intolerant of intolerance - rejecting anyone whose views condone the Islamist extremist narrative and create the conditions for it to flourish...a full-spectrum response - a response at home and abroad; in the immediate aftermath and far into the future."

Mr Cameron is right that we should stand up for the values of 'peace' 'democracy' 'tolerance' 'freedom,' but I fear that just the opposite may in fact be the result.

I have written previously about the Data Communications Bill the government wanted to enact before the General Election, and they can be found here and here. The Bill has been given the sobriquet of 'the Snoopers' Charter' and would enable wholesale surveillance of British citizens' private communications, and was an extension of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (RIPA). The Conservatives included this in their 2015 manifesto and will look to bring it forward with even more urgency now. I fully expect Mr Cameron in his statement in the House today, or Theresa May in the very near future to  announce that this will will brought forward in the timetable.

In his recent report Sir David Anderson, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, said that the status quo under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000) was 'undemocratic, unnecessary and - in the long run- intolerable.' Sir David also says that any new law should comply with international human rights standards and require judicial authorisation, a point picked up by both Yvette Cooper and David Davis in the recent House of Commons debate on the report.

Unfortunately Sir David also suggested that external communication 'bulk collection', to and from the UK, should be retained with 'additional safeguards' as required under RIPA, but overall his conclusion is that, "no operational case has yet been made for the Snoopers' Charter and questions the lawfulness, intrusiveness and cost of the proposals.'

The government has a duty to protect its citizens, and David Cameron has repeatedly said over the years that we should be proud of our values of tolerance. democracy and freedom of speech. However, chillingly, shortly after his General Election victory, he also said this:

For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.'

As terrible and terrifying as the events over the weekend have been, and it is expected some thirty British citizens have been victims of the Tunisian attack, they must not be used as an excuse to restrict those freedoms, and to mean that the government adopts mass surveillance as a way of life.

As he faces the House of Commons today, I hope Mr Cameron is questioned on what he means by a 'full spectrum response.' Does this mean that millions of innocent people, living ordinary peaceful lives in Britain will now become targets of our security services? Will we now be considering sending more of our overstretched and undermanned armed forces to take on ISIL, with the prospect of ground troops? These are dangerous words, and need to be clarified, and he needs to be challenged on what he means.

When he first became Prime Minister David Cameron spoke outside Downing Street and said, "Compared with a decade ago, this country is more open at home and more compassionate abroad and that is something we should all be grateful for"

Yet, it is more than possible that within a decade of saying those words, we could be left with a country more intolerant, more divided in ways that we never thought we would see anymore, as the anti-terrorist legislation and rhetoric is ramped up, and we all become suspects, because that what mass surveillance will do. We will all be considered potential terrorists as our most private communications become available to the security services for monitoring. It would, indeed, be a country where obeying the law is not enough.

The government, and our leaders from the other parties. must not panic in light of the events this last weekend. Instead they must be even more determined to stand up for those 'values' they so often espouse, and tell those that do wish to undermine those 'values,' that we will not be cowed, and that the people who live in these islands will continue to do so without fear, and in freedom.

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