04.11.2015 Author: Martin Berger
In the 21st century the political scene of most Western countries has been heavily dominated by oligarchs and their obedient puppets who are desperate to corrode the rule of law and radically restrict the personal freedoms of local residents. This process has been significantly aggravated by the tragic events of 9/11 and the severe financial crisis that followed the collapse of Lehmann Brothers in 2008. According to one of the leading advisers to President Obama – Rahm Emanuel “it would be a shame not to take advantage of such a situation.”
The notorious Patriot Act has given the US government the right to spy on its citizens, along with extending the privileges that the FBI and other national intelligence services enjoy. It has been widely regarded as a straight-out transformation of so-called “American democracy” into a sort of authoritarian regime in blunt violation of the rights that the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution granted American citizens. Even though the Patriot Act has recently been replaced by the so-called Freedom Act, the outrageous violations of US citizens’ human rights continues.
This US example has produced an indelible impression on the politicians of nearly every other Western country that now are beginning to tighten control over their own citizens in turn.
For instance, France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls has recently presented the Council of Ministers with a draft of the French Patriotic Act. In fact he proposed to provide security services with access to previously forbidden methods – the right to spy on one’s citizens on the Internet. To pass this law that has been labeled as a “direct interference in private life” by certain political forces, the ruling party has been actively exploiting the Charlie Hebdo attack along with the recent terrorist attacks in Tunisia.
British Conservatives have approached this issue more thoroughly. In recent years they have rallied for a major push against civil right under the guise of “the growing terrorist and extremist threat.” Essentially, this may result in the UK becoming an authoritarian country.
In particular, the bill that has been brought forward by the British Interior Minister Theresa May on the fight against terrorism, according to the joint human rights committee, may seriously limit the rights of citizens along with the academic freedom of speech in the UK. Theresa May announced that a new anti-terrorism law will require the introduction of certain steps that are aimed at preventing the spread of radicalism in state institutions, such as universities, schools, public institutions, all while forcing Internet companies to get involved in monitoring the communication of the population on the Internet.
British authorities have been persistently tightening their control over the net. Back in 2012 they put forward a new law on personal data, according to which local Internet providers would have been forced to store the history of all Internet activities for 12 months, including messages sent via SMS, Facebook and Twitter. This data would be provided to local authorities at any given moment at their request. As it was stated in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph by the former head of MI5 Lord Jonathan Evans, these measures should allow the intelligence services of the Kingdom to monitor such services of Facebook, WhatsApp and Snapchat, while forcing local providers to store IP addresses of the users.
In addition, as noted by The Guardian, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has been capturing emails of journalists working for top international media companies based in Great Britain, by using numerous taps on fibre-optic cables. On top of all this, “investigative journalists” were labeled as a threat to national security, alongside terrorists or hackers. Earlier, more than 100 chief editors of the British media have signed a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, which voiced their protest against the continuous spying on journalists. In addition, the Secretary General of the National Union of Journalists Michelle Stanistreet voiced his concern about British law enforcement agencies bypassing the need for judicial review of a request to access journalistic sources, abusing the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa).
According to the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Sajid Javid, Theresa May’s strategy to combat extremism – is a “fundamental shift” in the ongoing struggle to monitor the activities of TV channels, which may result in all media getting heavily censored in the UK.
The laws that have already been adopted in the Kingdom, allows British police to enjoy unprecedented access to the personal data of British citizens, due to legislative loopholes in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act that they’ve been exploiting. According to recent data, UK police officers file a request for access of personal data every two minutes, while getting permission in 93% of all cases. According to the report published by Big Brother Watch, in the period from 2012 to 2014, a total of 730,000 requests for access to personal data has been submitted in the UK by police officers. With each year the number of such applications is increasing, with last year marking an all time peak – 250,000 requests a year.
Under the guise of fighting “terrorist and extremist threats” British intelligence services try to establish control over human rights organizations and trade union protest groups. Recently the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which is the only tribunal in the United Kingdom that is entrusted with the duty to pass rulings on complaints against intelligence services, has recognized spying on the activities of two international human rights organization, that was carried out by GCHQ, illegal. In this regard, Erik King, deputy director of the human rights organization Privacy International, said: “”For far too long, intelligence agencies like GCHQ and NSA have acted like they are above the law. Today’s decision confirms to the public what many have said all along — over the past decade, GCHQ and the NSA have been engaged in an illegal mass surveillance sharing program that has affected millions of people around the world. We must not allow agencies to continue justifying mass surveillance programs using secret interpretations of secret laws.”Recently the newly created extremism analysis unit within the Home Office that has been charged with fighting extremism has been entrusted with blacklisting extremist individuals and organizations. However, the shadow home secretary of the opposition Labor Party,
Andy Burnham, said that the strategy proposed by Prime Minister David Cameron can lead to alienation between the Muslim community and the rest of the population, intensifying conflicts in an already riddled with troubles British society.
However, despite the steps already taken by the British special services to establish authoritarian control over the country, the head of MI5, Andrew Parker in an interview with the BBC, while referring to the ever-growing danger of extremist and terrorist attacks, demanded even greater powers to be granted. As a result, a new draft of the Trade Union Bill has become, according to the joint statement of the British branch of Amnesty International and the British Institute of Human Rights, a “major attack” on civil liberties in the UK. According to this bill, those who will want to go on strike in Britain will be obliged to identify themselves to the police, carry a letter of authorization and wear an armband that would indicate the fact that they belong to a certain protest groups. Despite the public outcry, the Cameron government has proposed to extend those conditions on every person who will be present at strikes. Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union stated: “It smacks of Germany in the 1930s when trade union leaders, and activists, were rounded up, and imprisoned, and, in some cases, executed. The Nazis banned unions, and strikes, in 1933, and that is what the Tories are trying to do now. They want to effectively neuter the unions – the only part of civil society now able to fight back – in Britain.”
The news that the head of MI5, Andrew Parker is trying hard to frighten UK citizens with claims that the terrorist threat is as high as it has ever been came as no surprise since the Government of the United Kingdom is planning to present the parliament with a new Investigatory Powers Bill, which grants the intelligence services and the police even greater powers and authority.
In this current situation, one could not stress enough the words of the head of the parliamentary commission on anti-terrorist legislation, David Anderson that has recently said that the proposed measures to combat terrorism involve the legitimization of state scrutiny of the political activities of large numbers of law-abiding people. . Unfortunately, his words remained unheeded both in the UK government and across British society.
+++++Martin Berger is a Czech-based freelance journalist and analyst, exclusively for the online magazine
New Eastern Outlook