The Investigatory Powers Act, Britain’s Unprecedented Mass Surveillance Law

A couple of worrying developments to note this week in terms of individual freedoms, particularly as they relate to the internet. The United Kingdom is continuing its post-Brexit drift to the further reaches of the authoritarian right with the imminent signing into law of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. Justifiably called a “Snoopers’ Charter”, the legislation will bring into existence a regime of mass surveillance unparalleled in the democratic world. Instead of riding on the coattails of its US partners the British state and its intelligence agencies will be granted permissions that would be unthinkable – or unconstitutional – in an American context. Something that will certainly suit the needs of the unscrupulous folks in Langley and Fort Meade. However the legislation will also introduce domestic rules into Britain itself, including a secret database that will store the web history of every internet user in the United Kingdom or anyone who uses a UK-based web service. James Vincent has more details at the Verge.

Meanwhile Twitter has initiated an apparent cull of the social media platform, suspending or closing down the accounts of people it regards as promoting politically problematic opinions. In the United States this has resulted in a significant number of men and women espousing ultra-conservative or alt-right views being silenced over the last two weeks. According to the Verge:

“Among the users suspended this week is Richard Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank that, according to its website, is “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States.” Spencer’s personal verified account was suspended, as were those of the National Policy Institute and his magazine, Radix Journal. Other suspended alt-right Twitter users include Paul Town, Pax Dickinson, Ricky Vaughn and John Rivers.”

While some accounts have been reactivated, particularly those associated with ultracon journalists or bloggers, the celebratory air among some left-wing and progressive commentators has puzzled me. Since when do liberals approve of political censorship? Of silencing voices we disagree with? We have seen in recent times where such actions lead. Shutting down contrarian or populist sentiment has given Britain the disaster that is Brexit while the same social and cultural phenomenon has given the United States president-elect Trump.

In truth, what can be targeted at the ideological right can also be aimed at the ideological left. Taking away the freedom of expression in a supposedly pluralistic democracy is a two-edged sword. In the recent past both the UK and the US sought to sideline or suppress the views of Irish republicans and their supporters, to greater or lesser degrees. Draconian censorship by the government and press in the United Kingdom, both voluntary and through legislation, undoubtedly contributed to prolonging the conflict in the north-east of Ireland, the so-called Troubles. It a very real and provable sense, censorship kills. Progressives should reject and abhor it wherever it is found; not demand even more of it.

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8 comments

  1. Since when do liberals approve of political censorship? They do now. Just ask Milo Yiannopolous. Anjem Choudary would have a better chance of being allowed to speak at a university.

    1. American so-called liberals? Since always. Just like their counterparts, they have always practised and supported political censorship. To be fair, it has never been this bad on either side, with the so-called left currently outpacing the right. In any case, the American liberal is not comparable to the European liberal. To a European liberal, Wall-Street connections / market manipulation, use of slave labour, use of foreign child labour, abuse of immigrants for profit, elimination of common worker’s jobs to outsourcing, wholesale of private information for profit, race-based harassment, racial segregation, etc.. would generally disqualify one here from being considered liberal. The American liberals are just like the American conservatives, their shyte just stinks differently. Lately, they have certainly experienced an unprecedented increase in totalitarian goals and tactics worthy of their opponents. Bernie Sanders is as close as you can get, and in America, he is a socialist. Here he would be just ever so slightly left of centre. He was their best ticket out of the purgatory they are in.

      1. On the contrary,i see European so called leftists as just as bad as their American counterparts. The incident i refer to in my post happened in England not America. The left is failing and dying. Nature abhors a vacuum. Which is why you see the rise of the right in Europe today.

  2. Two points on which I think you are wrong. 1. The left (if one can call it that) under Blair/Brown was far worse (ID cards anyone?) than May. 2. Twitter is going to die soon, not due to the cull that begat Gab but to the fact that 30% of UK accounts are Birdsong out of GCHQ.

    1. I think few people would define Blair/Brown as the left. Give May a chance to get into her stride, even on ID cards, for example. The recent reports about suggestions of showing a passport for NHS treatment is just a kite flyer for ID cards. The left has not been in power in Britain for many, many years now.

      1. My hunch and they are usually accurate, is that “they” will make life progressively harder for folks without an ID card. Remember, Ireland introduced one without consultation.

  3. The sad part here is that both right and left stand to profit from measures like that. Control is always a huge part of overzealous government. As the lines of left-centre and right-centre blur in measures of control and governance, the public loses. Especially in European countries, where no real constitutional protections exist for people confronted by the “law.” In America, even though patriot act and other such measures are slowly eroding constitutional rights, protections directly afforded by the constitution are very difficult to overcome wholesale, unlike in Europe. Restrictions on speech for instance are rampant in Europe, and what is “hate speech” today may not be hate speech tomorrow. Restrictions on speech and censorship are self-imposed by the media (including social media) in the United States, and just follow partisan political affiliation. The only positive aspect of the Trump election (if it actually comes to pass) in my opinion, is that the U.S. Supreme Court is not going to be fully staffed with power-hungry ideological zealots of just one political affiliation.

  4. Like the 1930’s the right is on the rise, simplistic solutions appeal to the masses , interesting to see how it pans out with Trump after 4 years.

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