UK Government Goes Full Orwell: Snooper’s Charter, Encryption Backdoors, Free Speech Suppression

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Courtesy of Techdirt and from the 1984-wasn’t-a-manual dept:

The old joke goes “George Orwell’s 1984 was a warning, not a ‘how to’ manual.” But that joke is increasingly less funny as the UK really seems to be doing everything it can to put in place Orwell’s fictitious vision — just a few decades later. Right after the election a few weeks ago, we noted the government’s plan to push forward with its “extremist disruption orders” (as had been promised). The basic idea is that if the government doesn’t like what you’re saying, it can define your statements as “extremist” and make them criminal. Prime Minister David Cameron did his best Orwell in flat out stating that the idea was to use these to go after people who were obeying the law and then arguing that the UK needed to suppress free speech… in the name of protecting free speech. Really.

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. It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that’s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance.

This government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach. As the party of one nation, we will govern as one nation and bring our country together. That means actively promoting certain values.

Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, gender or sexuality.

We must say to our citizens: this is what defines us as a society.

It’s a fairly amazing speech where Cameron can — within just a few sentences — both argue for the rule of law and that obeying the rule of law should not keep you out of trouble. Continue reading

David Cameron to Unveil New Limits on Extremists’ Activities in Queen’s Speech

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Just the actions of a government moving to crack down on it’s citizenry as their own incompetence and gratuitous malevolence becomes too obvious to ignore. Tip towing towards totalitarianism, slowly but surely. Cameron and May’s words are duplicitous but it is their actions that will breed extremism by labelling it as such, creating the thing they wish to stop, further exacerbating ‘extremism’ and further crack down on personal and social liberty. Courtesy of Patrick Wintour @ The Guardian:

A counter-terrorism bill including plans for extremism disruption orders designed to restrict those trying to radicalise young people is to be included in the Queen’s speech, David Cameron will tell the national security council on Wednesday.

The orders, the product of an extremism task force set up by the prime minister, were proposed during the last parliament in March, but were largely vetoed by the Liberal Democrats on the grounds of free speech. They were subsequently revived in the Conservative manifesto.

The measures would give the police powers to apply to the high court for an order to limit the “harmful activities” of an extremist individual. The definition of harmful is to include a risk of public disorder, a risk of harassment, alarm or distress or creating a “threat to the functioning of democracy”.

The aim is to catch not just those who spread or incite hatred on the grounds of gender, race or religion but also those who undertake harmful activities for the “purpose of overthrowing democracy”.

They would include a ban on broadcasting and a requirement to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web and social media or in print. The bill will also contain plans for banning orders for extremist organisations which seek to undermine democracy or use hate speech in public places, but it will fall short of banning on the grounds of provoking hatred. Continue reading

Snoopers’ Charter Set to Return to Law as Theresa May Suggests Conservative Majority Could Lead to Huge Increase in surveillance Powers

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Courtesy of Andrew Griffin @ The Independent:

The Conservatives are already planning to introduce the huge surveillance powers known as the Snoopers’ Charter, hoping that the removal from government of the Liberal Democrats that previously blocked the controversial law will allow it to go through.

The law, officially known as the Draft Communications Data Bill, is already back on the agenda according to Theresa May. It is expected to force British internet service providers to keep huge amounts of data on their customers, and to make that information available to the government and security services.

The snoopers’ charter received huge criticism from computing experts and civil liberties campaigners in the wake of introduction. It was set to come into law in 2014, but Nick Clegg withdrew his support for the bill and it was blocked by the Liberal Democrats. Theresa May, who led the legislation as home secretary, said shortly after the Conservatives’ election victory became clear that she will seek to re-introduce it to government. With the re-election of May and the likely majority of her party, the bill is likely to find success if the new government tries again. Continue reading

What William Hague and Theresa May need to tell us

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

Courtesy of Jim Killock of Open Rights Group:

While admiration for Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing grows in the USA and abroad, in the UK we are listening to Sir Malcolm Rifkind and William Hague with increasing scepticism.

It seems obvious that our security services will have received information from these trawling and retention systems, and equally it would be a little surprising if they had broken international law. The government must answer these questions, especially to tell us what they knew, but Sir Malcolm Rifkind insisting that ministerial warrants would be required seems tiresome and a way of avoiding the real point.

The government cannot simply insist that US-based surveillance, which is both secret and pervasive, is just a US problem. PRISM in particular seems to be targeted at non-US citizens, for very broad ‘foreign policy’ considerations. Additionally, the legal position in the US is that there are no constitutional protections for non-US citizens. Caspar Bowden outlined these points in detail (PDF) at ORGCon on Saturday.

Our UK government must have known about US FISAA powers, and most likely the kind of programmes that the new law was creating.

When Parliament thought about a similar problem in preparation for the UK census, they were alarmed and took action. The Patriot Act allows data to be ‘seized’ secretly under National Security Letters. Parliament asked that the US contractor, Lockheed Martin, be prevented from handling census data, to avoid the possibility that data might be seized and copied under the Patriot Act. Parliament won that battle.

What William Hague and Theresa May should have been doing was making sure that our businesses and citizens knew to shelter from FISAAA powers. They should have been attempting to strengthen our data protection arrangements, or ensuring through procurement that all personal data the government keeps is kept out of the USA, until more reasonable laws are in place.

Instead, their reaction seems to have been to push ahead with our own UK version, in the Snooper’s Charter. Frightening and unaccountable US powers seem merely to have inspired in Theresa May the desire to replicate them here.

Laws are meant to guarantee reasonable behaviour. Once secrecy around their interpretation, implementation and use is complete, it should be no surprise that powers get out of control. A lot of this secrecy exists in the UK at present: we do not know which companies retain data, nor whose data is accessed. There is no individual notification; nor court supervision of access. During the Snooper’s Charter debate, the Home Office was extraordinarily reluctant to discuss the problems they believed they had, citing national security instead. For FISAAA, the government did nothing to encourage sensible analysis of what this should mean for UK citizens’, journalists’ and businesses’ confidentiality.

The ability of government institutions to turn a blind eye and ignore such serious problems, to the point that our trust in them is dealt a terrible blow, is a failure of leadership. Now our politicians must live up to their duty, and turn their attention to ways to protect British and European citizens from US-based warrantless surveillance.

UK politicians should demand:

That US law recognises the human rights of foreign citizens, in particular their right to privacy

That EU Data Protection requires EU standards of privacy from US companies; or warns when this cannot be guaranteed

That UK and EU procurement be designed to protect personal data from warrantless US surveillance