Every so often there is a news story absurd enough to make cliched people ask: “Is it April 1st?” This week there was one, it was April 1st, but the story is depressingly real. I refer to government plans to extend the surveillance of our online lives.
While I believe in a strong state, and I certainly trust a democratic state more so that any private company, this represents another unnecessary intrusion into the private lives of us all. I believe that the internet must be totally free; that is as a true anarchy. A “crime” can only exist on the internet where is co-exists in reality (e.g. fraud). It must be a totally free place where ideas can be exchanged and where speech must be entirely free. While this naturally carries risks, I believe these can be better averted through user education rather than through cumbersome regulation. The internet can never be policed to protect the naïve or the over-sensitive from the troll, nor should it be. I realise that this probably sounds a little woolly or idealistic, but I will always favour the optimism of hope in humanity’s better instincts over the pessimistic urge to control and restrict us.
This isn’t just about our ability the watch daft videos of cats, to pointlessly argue the toss in comment sections, or to create weakly satirical memes. Consider how online communication is used to build campaigning and enable activism. Most organised protests will have Facebook events, with wildly optimistic “attending” lists. Debates over the injustices or otherwise of government policies will rage on page walls, or in twitter feeds. Last year saw the (perhaps over-hyped) power of online protest in deposing dictators. Fear those in positions of power who wish to curtail our online freedoms – they are a threat to democracy itself.
I am not talking only of the specific implications of these more recent proposals. They build gradually on the already extensive powers of our police and security forces. If implemented I imagine they will ultimately be another notch on the ratchet towards an authoritarian state. A future Prime Minister, trying to reduce these powers, would no doubt have their ear bent by senior security figures. They would supposedly be so useful in catching the genuine terrorists (who may in any case have been caught though traditional methods). Never mind the “inconvenience” to the ordinary citizen who by now has normalised having their online activity watched. I argue for a free internet, and against all efforts to regulate it, from a point of principle.
Remember ID cards. New Labour was at its worst in its authoritarian spasms. Remember the Tory manifesto of 2010: “Labour have subjectedBritain’s historic freedoms to unprecedented attack. They have trampled on liberties.” Now see that opportunism exposed as another incumbent government threatens the sacred privacy of the individual. To quote inhuman oxygen thief Chris Grayling in 2009 “Too many parts [of the government] have too many powers to snoop on innocent people and that’s really got to change.” This same creature is now involved in the DWP’s outsourcing of databases to India, with the privacy of millions of innocent people being dependent on the integrity of the lowest bidder.
If the Tories believe in freedom it is merely the freedom for the powerful to enslave the rest of us. Labour have barely shed the worst of our authoritarian Blairite heritage. The Liberal Democrats are making very promising noises, but I don’t fancy placing too much faith in them any time soon. Who then will stand up for our online freedoms?