Quite simply our way of life is under threat. In the year of the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee, in which we are celebrating Britain at its finest, we also get the perfect opportunity to reflect on what we have contributed to the world – British humour, music and, more importantly to me, the cornerstone of any just society – the premise of Innocent until proven guilty. Developed on these shores more than a millennia ago, now in 2012 we are one step closer to seeing it being destroyed beyond recognition.
The woman at the control of the bulldozer is one Theresa May. The new legislation that is her cannonball – the Snoopers charter. Lampooned across Europe as unconstitutional, the Communication Data Bill not only destroys the concept of a private life, but breaks both the coalition agreement to “end storage of internet and email records” and even the Human Rights Act, handing power to prow over our personal information to agencies in the UK and around the world. Stockpiling internet history, logging text messages and telephone calls – a frightening scenario builds up in which authorities, including those other than the police, can gain information as and when they want it, not need it. No crime has to have been committed; no suspicion has to be in place, no eyebrows have to have been raised. This unjust piece of legislation makes us all criminals in our own homes. The police no longer have to use evidence to prove our guilt, the responsibility lies on our shoulders to prove our innocence. This is wrong.
A ‘just in case’ justice system is being created. Data is being built up – waiting to be unleashed to criminalise us when we have broken even the most minor and unconnected of offences. What is more worrying is that there is nothing to suggest that the data collected could even lead to successful convictions. AsThe Guardian revealed in July, information passed to police by internet companies led to the wrongful detention of two people amongst 895 “communication data errors” – the Official Interception of Communications Commissioner Sir Paul Kennedy admitted. What is being unravelled is a network of devastating errors on the part of both data providers and the police, a network of unregulated officials who rely on receiving information using just telephone numbers, email addresses and inquiring minds; and a network of pointless arrests that shed an alarming light on the lack of safeguards in the new bill.
Even in the face of overwhelming opposition Theresa May has advocated that the “data is vital for the police in their fight against crime”. Yet when the Home Office admits councils could apply using a “business case” style approach – we have to ask ourselves who this new bill is going to benefit the most – the public or the government purse? Whatever the purpose we can be sure of one thing – when we need another Rumpole, Kavanagh or Gandhi to defend our liberties we won’t look in Theresa May’s direction.
By James Wand