I thought I was done with #thedaywefightback posts. I may be the last person on the inetrwebs still banging on about it. That’s some pretty niche SEO. But then I got an email from our MP, Joan Ruddock, the other day. So here’s how it started:
I've contacted you on this issue before. I'd be happy to meet with you to discuss it further as I realise it's quite complex, but we really need to address reform of GCHQ and the intelligence leaks that are being sent to the American agency the NSA which essentially gives access to classified information, including UK information, to independent contractors with little vetting involved. I'm asking you to visit www.dontspyonus.org.uk and check out the six modest principles to reform surveillance. Parliament needs an independent inquiry, to report before the next general election, to recommend legislative reform, and it must do a better job of holding the intelligence agencies to account. I'm asking you to take this seriously, as it will be an issue that more and more voters will be using to decide which party leads this country. GCHQ won't tell us how much data it is collecting or for what reason, but it's demonstratively not to do with combating terrorism or protecting British civilians, and there's no evidence to the contrary of that assertion. It's also illegal. The international legal framework on this is clear. Mass or blanket surveillance contravenes Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life) and Article 10 (the right to freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Supporting it this the same as supporting any human rights violation.
Flash forward a couple of weeks of no impact, and our MP has responded…
Thank you for your email about surveillance and the Open Rights Group’s six principles to reform surveillance. You may be aware that the government have recently launched a consultation on Covert Surveillance and Covert Human Intelligence Sources Codes of Practice. While I appreciate that this is not the inquiry or parliamentary debate that you would like to see I hope that you will contribute to the consultation (if you would like to copy me into your responses I would be pleased to see them). The consultation runs until 11:45 PM on 27th March and it can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/covert-surveillance It is not possible for every MP to contribute to every debate but of course I will consider it, if and when such a debate is scheduled.
How inspiring. No mention of the supporting the actual points in the original letter. There are three documents on the British government’s Open consultation on covert surveillance web page that Joan had sent me, each one about as tantalising as an OKcupid profile for Michael Gove :
- Covert surveillance and covert human intelligence sources codes of practice: consultation document
- Covert human intelligence sources code of practice
- Covert surveillance and property interference code of practice
To save you the trouble: There’s nothing on mass surveillance in any of these. There are a handful of technical amendments to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (PIPA) that won’t really stop GCHQ from downloading and categorising people’s private sex videos from Yahoo. I don’t know how Joan saw this as useful.
“As technology becomes more and more complicated, it becomes necessary to have more and more elaborate organizations, more hierarchical organizations, and incidentally the advance of technology is being accompanied by an advance in the science of organization. It’s now possible to make organizations on a larger scale than it was ever possible before, and so that you have more and more people living their lives out as subordinates in these hierarchical systems controlled by bureaucracies, either the bureaucracies of big business or the bureaucracies of big government.” – Aldus Huxley
But while I couldn’t really figure out why Joan would send me down this off-topic dead end, looking at these documents in light of what we know about the depth of the government’s physical intrusion into your personal life is enlightening. They illustrate the slothful rate at which government processes and creates regulation. Consider that against the speed at which GCHQ and its Five Eyes allies can collect and store data. Policy can’t keep up with technology, but technology does dictate policy by becoming an indispensable part of the process.
It was disappointing that Joan didn’t seem that interested, and forwarded on a link to a trio of unrelated documents featuring technocratic text vomit when fundamental issues are at stake.
But it was helpful, in the end. It further cemented my thesis that policy debate is a futile exercise on this particular topic. Slightly revised wording promising that investigations into noise complaints won’t violate what the government considers to be your right to privacy is nice to see. What does privacy mean and what are your rights to it is where a public consultation needs to be. Good luck with that.
And now I’m done with #thedaywefightback. Hope you enjoyed the series. See you next year in an even more monitored internet.