Already, we know that electronic surveillance has been used in Britain for purposes other than the perennial justifications of catching terrorists, foiling foreign spies and preventing military attacks. For example, it was deployed to spy on countries attending the G20 meeting the UK hosted in 2009. If the government does this to other states, which might have the capacity to detect its spying and which certainly have the means to object to it, what is it doing to defenseless citizens?
It looks as if Hague may have misled parliament on June 10 when he claimed that “to intercept the content of any individual’s communications in the UK requires a warrant signed personally by me, the home secretary, or by another secretary of state.”
We now discover that these ministers can also issue general certificates, renewed every six months, which permit mass interception of the kind that Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has been conducting. Among the certificates issued to GCHQ is a “global” one authorizing all its operations, including the trawling of up to 600 million phone calls and 39 million gigabytes of electronic information a day. A million ministers, signing all day, could not keep up with that.
The best test of the good faith of an institution is the way it deals with past abuses. Despite two years of revelations about abusive police spying, the British government has yet to launch a full public inquiry. Bob Lambert, who ran the team, fathered a child by an innocent activist he deceived, co-wrote the McDonald’s leaflet, is alleged to have lied in court and has been accused by an MP of firebombing, was awarded an Member of the Order of the British Empire in 2008. He now teaches at St Andrews University, where he claims to have a background in “counterterrorism.”
British Minister of the Home Office Nick Herbert has said in parliament that it is acceptable for police to have sex with activists, for the sake of their “plausibility.” Does this sound to you like a state in which we should invest our trust?
A senior British intelligence source expressed concerns about mass surveillance to the Jun. 23 Observer.
“If there was the wrong political change, it could be very dangerous. All you need is to have the wrong government in place,” the source said.
Yet it seems that any government prepared to subject its citizens to mass surveillance is by definition the wrong one. No one can be trusted with powers as wide and inscrutable as these. In various forms — Conservative, New Labour, the coalition — Britons have had the wrong government for 30 years. Across that period its undemocratic powers have been consolidated.
It has begun to form an elective dictatorship, in which the three major parties are united in their desire to create a security state, to wage unprovoked wars, to defend corporate power against democracy, to act as a doormat for the US, to fight political dissent all the way to the bedroom and the birthing pool. There is no need to wait for the “wrong” state to arise to conclude that mass surveillance endangers liberty, pluralism and democracy: We are already there.