FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Hidden Browsing Histories: Theresa May and the Snooper’s Charter

by

“‘Trust Me’ might be just the most manipulative thing a politician can say. It means leave me alone in secret to operate without proper challenge.”

— Tom Watson, UK Deputy Labour Leader, Dec 18, 2015

Many government policies are advertised as useful for broader safety – till they are reversed to apply to the very officials who create them. The UK Home Secretary is very much of that school. Readers will be aware what Theresa May has done her invaluably bit to undermine privacy on the broader pretext of protecting security.

Central to this is the Home Office’s insistence on the Investigatory Powers Bill that seemingly insists on more intrusion than investigation. The bill, in rather futile fashion, will compel phone and web companies to retain records of every citizen for at least a year, providing a data pool which police and security services could access when required. The legislation goes further, enrolling the relevant service providers in a pseudo-police role that will override encryption if needed.

May has found herself having to sugar coat the bill with some decent premise, and has decided to go the cyberbullying card, a view she outlined to South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge.

The tactic is standard: if people are misbehaving on the internet, those on facilitating its use should be made responsible for moral behaviour. Accordingly, “Internet connection records would update the capability of law enforcement in a criminal investigation to determine the sender and recipient of a communication, for example, a malicious message such as those exchanged in cyberbullying.”

The response by The Independent has been an attempt to pull the history of Theresa May’s browsing history for the last week of October, a freedom of information request that purposely excludes any information directly concerned with security matters.

What is good for the goose of inquiry is also grand for the gander placed under the scrutinising eye of the state. In short, if you are going to be equal before the law, then by golly even ministers should have their browsing history on the internet made available for the public gaze.

Not so, according to the Home Office. The FOI request has been dismissed as vexatious. In other words, the request was dismissed on grounds of an action “brought without sufficient grounds for winning, purely to cause annoyance to the defendant.”

The Home Office’s response, drawing upon section 14(1) of the Act, insisted that the department had “decided that your request is vexatious because it places an unreasonable border on the department, because it has adopted a scattergun approach and seems solely designed for the purpose of fishing for information without any idea of what might be revealed.”

The response provides a suitable template for critics of the surveillance state, if only because it demonstrates the hopeless rationale for the entire metadata retention regime. If the request by The Independent was, by its nature, scattergun, one could hardly assume that the security state’s behaviour in this regard is anything but scattergun.

This legal excuse remains one of the least convincing in the area of information law. It is, however, used repeatedly by states who have freedom of information regimes, providing slivers when asked, but generally withholding the bulk of what is deemed too sensitive for release.

The point is often the same: we will have a regime to allow information for the public precisely because we are intent on disallowing much of it. Regulation, in other words, is constriction, measured in the name of protecting that great, inscrutable fiction known as the public interest. You are kept in the dark because ignorance is necessary bliss.

In the case of the Home Office, there could be few things more fundamentally vexatious than a metadata retention regime premised on the nonsense of combating trolls and bullies on the world wide web.

The efforts on the part of The Independent have at least demonstrated to British citizens that this regime has other purposes, managing to get some egg onto the faces of Home Office officials. It is by no means the only quarter targeting the potential consequences of the bill. Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson has argued that the bill’s supposed self-guarding mechanisms and oversight simply do not go far enough in protecting privacy.

In Watson’s mind, there was merely a “very limited review of the Home Secretary’s warrants by a judge appointed by a Commissioner who is appointed by the prime minister.” It was a “false choice to say that these massive extensions of state power must be introduced without checks and balances.”

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook finds its provisions similarly repellent for privacy. “We believe it would be wrong,” went a company statement, “to weaken security for hundreds of millions of law-abiding customers so that it will also be weaker for the very few who pose a threat.” Given this government’s supposed love of the corporate sector, big business and all, David Cameron and his Home Secretary have their work sharply cut out for them.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump. It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
Kenneth Surin
The Neoliberal Stranglehold on the American Public University
Lawrence Davidson
Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?
Douglas Valentine
Who Killed MLK Jr?
Robert Fisk
The Foreign Correspondent in the Age of Twitter and Trump
Dale Bryan
“Where Do We Go from Here?”
David Swanson
The Deep State Wants to Deep Six Us
Dan Bacher
Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan
Mark Weisbrot
Obama Should Make Sure that Haitian Victims of UN-Caused Cholera are Compensated
Winslow Myers
The Light of the World
Bruce Mastron
My Latest Reason to Boycott the NFL: Guns
Weekend Edition
January 13, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Gregory Elich
Did the Russians Really Hack the DNC?
Jeffrey St. Clair
The President Who Wasn’t There: Barack Obama’s Legacy of Impotence
Anthony DiMaggio
Ethics Fiasco: Trump, Divestment and the Perversion of Executive Politics
Joshua Frank
Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers
Paul Street
Hit the Road, Barack: Some Farewell Reflections
Vijay Prashad
After Aleppo: the State of Syria
John Wight
Russia Must be Destroyed: John McCain and the Case of the Dodgy Dossier
Rob Urie
Meet the Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
The Russian Dossier Reminds Me of the Row Over Saddam’s WMDs
Eric Sommer
U.S.-China War: a Danger Hidden from the American People
Andrew Levine
Are Democrats Still the Lesser Evil?
Linda Pentz Gunter
What’s Really Behind the Indian Point Nuclear Deal?
Robert Fantina
Trucks, ‘Terror’ and Israel
Richard Moser
Universal Values are Revolutionary Values
Russell Mokhiber
Build the Bagdikian Wall: “Sponsored News” at the Washington Post
Yoav Litvin
Establishment Narcissism – The Democrats’ Game of Thrones
David Rosen
Return of the Repressed: Trump & the Revival of the Culture Wars
Robert Koehler
War Consciousness and the F-35
Rev. William Alberts
The New Smell of McCarthyism Demands Faith Leaders Speak Truth to Power
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail