Something is seriously amiss in Europe. On the one hand, the European Parliament voted last Thursday for all charges against whistleblower Edward Snowden to be dropped. MEPs voted 285 – 281 in favor of making Snowden a ‘Human Rights Defender’ at the same time imploring all European member states to grant him asylum.
On the other hand, the UK just published the revised version of its Investigatory Powers Bill. The controversial bill (also known as the Snoopers Charter) that would force ISPs to keep detailed records of all British citizens web history – eroding human rights in the process.
It doesn’t stop there either. France, Switzerland, Norway, Germany (and countless others) either already uphold the EU’s annulled Data Retention Directive or are in the process of pushing through draconian surveillance bills, with human rights activists up in arms about it in all of those countries.
It makes no sense
How can Europe, on the one hand, commend the man that brought government spying out into the open – telling us that he ought to be respected for his role as a Human Rights Defender? While at the very same time – in just about every member state – governments are seeking to extend the exact policies that Snowden so often vilifies?
Just this week UK police have lobbied the government in favour of the Snoopers Charter, saying that they would benefit greatly from the ability to view the web browsing history of every person in Britain. Police claim that they need these far-reaching powers to deal with the tremendous scope and variety of activity, and communication, that occurs online. This vast array of activities, they say, is limiting what they can achieve with conventional methods of investigation.
Richard Berry, assistant chief constable of Gloucestershire Police and the National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesperson for data communications, claims that they just want to keep everything legal and above board,
‘We want to police by consent, and we want to ensure that privacy safeguards are in place.’
By police by consent, however, it is pretty clear that Berry means they wish to be allowed to do the things that Snowden revealed GCHQ to be doing all along – only with legal permission. So, if Snowden is a ‘Human Rights Defender’? The police and the government must be the ones attempting to whip our human rights off us?
As it is, campaigners in the UK are calling for police powers to be curbed not extended. That is because of evidence that recently emerged, which reveals that police are granted access to British citizens private communications an incredible 93% of the time. That figure is so terrifyingly close to 100% that it makes you seriously scratch your head as to why the government, and law enforcement, see the need to pass the Snoopers Charter at all.
After all, if they are already being granted permission to see our private communications legally – simply be requesting to do so – then why on earth do they feel the need to do so without oversight? It truly boggles the mind.
These startling figures were released to privacy campaigners at Big Brother Watch (under freedom of information laws) and reveal that there were more than 730,000 requests for private communication data made between 2012 and 2014. That means that police are seeking to access British citizens private emails and phone calls every 2 minutes, requests that (according to the data) are increasing year on year (and are granted 93% of the time).
‘We essentially need the ‘who, where, when and what’ of any communication – who initiated it, where were they and when did it happened. And a little bit of the ‘what’, were they on Facebook, or a banking site, or an illegal child-abuse image-sharing website?’ says assistant chief constable Berry,
‘Five years ago, [a suspect] could have physically walked into a bank and carried out a transaction. We could have put a surveillance team on that but now, most of it is done online. We just want to know about the visit.’
Snowden, the man that has just been crowned defender of human rights by the European Parliament, says that this is the exact kind of snooping that we should reverently stand up to. In his recent tweet, he makes it clear that the metadata that police want access to is the exact stuff that makes his blood boil,
Last time that the government tried to pass the snoopers charter it was thwarted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition government. This time, with the conservatives in full swing, perhaps it will get through. Not every conservative MP, however, is a supporter. David Davis, for one, does not support his party’s wish to intrude into the lives of innocent British citizens,
‘It’s extraordinary they’re asking for this again, they are overreaching, and there is no proven need to retain such data for a year.’