The snooper’s charter: one misspelled Google search for ‘bong-making’ and you’ll be in an orange jumpsuit
Theresa May, with the general air of a hawk that had a This Morning makeover, has launched the new investigatory powers bill. No more drunken Googling: all it takes is a misspelled search for “bong-making” and suddenly you’ll be in an orange jumpsuit getting beaten with a pillowcase full of bibles. Also, pay attention when searching for a child’s prom.
This law will create lots of new jobs, as the person charged with reading all our communications (who will see more unsolicited erections than customer services at Skype) will regularly feed their screaming face into a meatgrinder.
The government insists, as it tries to scrap the Freedom of Information Act, that only people who have something to hide should worry. People who run for public office will be afforded privacy, while our private lives will become public property. Having our privacy exposed is particularly crushing for the British – a nation for whom the phrase: “How are you?” really means: “Please say one word, then leave me alone.” So why have they just accepted this? Well, for a lot of people it’s the only hope that anyone will ever read their tweets.
The PR push for this bill’s launch has shown how similar the legislative process has become to the lobbying one. In fact, it’s not even lobbying, really, as most things that get lobbied for at least have some notional utility. This is more like phishing, asking us to sign up to something that looks helpful, but is actually a data breach.
Of course, the government has been reading our social media messages for 15 years. Imagine the celebrations at GCHQ when they see a young couple they used to watch sexting, then wanking on Skype, post their first kid’s school uniform pics on Facebook. In its own way, it must be quite touching.
The UK government has always stored intelligence, so don’t worry – they knew about Assad for years and didn’t act; they know about Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses and do nothing; they knew about Hitler and didn’t act. What makes you think that a Facebook post you’re writing about a riot would … oh … where did you go?
One of the key areas of concern about the bill is the lack of any real judicial check. Theresa May can bypass judicial permission if surveillance is deemed “urgent” – like, if Belmarsh’s kitchen rota has a gap for someone who can cook halal. Nonetheless, Andy Burnham was quick to offer his support.
Many of Labour’s frontbench seem not to have been caught up in the joyous new Corbyn era, and look like people who have been forced by their work to go on some kind of awareness course. Currently, much of the Labour party’s policy seems to be formulated by encouraging them to just go on camera and say how they feel. Burnham has since backtracked, telling May: “On closer inspection of the wording of the bill, it would seem that it does not deliver the strong safeguard that you appeared to be accepting.”
Which translates as: he didn’t read the bill very carefully because the government had told him it would have judicial safeguards and he believed them. Poor Andy. It’s as if you can’t even trust people who are trying to give a load of authoritarian powers to their secret police any more.
This bill will lead to every person of colour’s worst fear: more concerned white people. Because white people will soon be the only ones who can Google the history of Islamophobia without ending up spending a decade watching children’s TV at full volume in a variety of stress positions. Ideological crime will be prioritised while actual crime is ignored, and we’ll adapt. Eventually, when you see a mugging, you’ll just start WhatsApping emojis of bombs until you hear sirens.
We will acquiesce to the scanning of Facebook posts to fight terrorism, which has killed 56 people in the UK in 10 years, but will still regard the killing of two women a week by their partners as a private domestic matter. God knows what this whole shambles says about us all psychologically. May herself gives the impression that the only childhood affection she got was the time a horse mistook her knuckles for a corn cob. At least this bill has allowed me to decode her permanently appalled expression: she looks as if she’s just seen my internet history.
I suppose that we need to consider what our internet history is. The legislation seems to view it as a list of actions, but it’s not. It’s a document that shows what we’re thinking about. The government wants to know what we’ve been thinking about, and what could be more sinister than that?