SNP condemn UK government’s “Orwellian nightmare” of internet snooping

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By a Newsnet reporter

SMP MSP Jim Eadie has heavily criticised Tory plans which aim to allow the UK Government to be able to monitor the phone calls, emails, texts and online activity of everyone in the UK.

The snooping proposals are being brought forward despite the Conservatives’ opposition to a similar measure proposed by the last Labour government.

The Home Office, headed by Conservative Theresa May, insists that the changes are vital in order to tackle terrorism and organised crime.  The proposed new law would allow the UK Government’s information monitoring services GCHQ to access individuals’ emails, web-browsing and social networking in real time rather than retrospectively.

The Home Office confirmed that ministers were intending to legislate “as soon as parliamentary time allows”.   It is believed that the legislation will be introduced in the Queen’s Speech in May, when Parliament returns after its Easter break.

The new law would oblige internet service providers to retain all data for 2 years and make it available to the security services.  The plan would not allow GCHQ access to the content of emails, calls or messages without a warrant, however the intelligence services would be able to identify which websites a person had visited, and who that person was in contact with and for how long.  

When the previous Labour Government announced its intention to introduce similar changes, the Conservative shadow home secretary at the time, Chris Grayling, said Conservatives would oppose the measure, and said that the Labour government had “built a culture of surveillance which goes far beyond counter-terrorism and serious crime”.

Labour’s plans failed due to unprecedented opposition.  However not all within the Conservatives or the Lib Dems support the new plan.  Conservative MP David Davis, who came second to David Cameron in the last Conservative leadership election, described the measure as “an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary people”.  

Mr Davis said that the new law would give the Government the ability to “to eavesdrop on vast numbers of people”.  He added:  

“What this is talking about doing is not focusing on terrorists or criminals, it’s absolutely everybody’s emails, phone calls, web access … All that’s got to be recorded for two years and the Government will be able to get at it with no by-your-leave from anybody.”

Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch campaign group, said: “No amount of scare-mongering can hide the fact that this policy is being condemned by MPs in all political parties.

“The Government has offered no justification for what is unprecedented intrusion into our lives, nor explained why promises made about civil liberties are being casually junked.”

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil rights group Liberty, said that when in opposition both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats had opposed a very similar plan put forward by Labour Home Secretary Jacquie Smith.

Speaking to Sky News, Ms Chakrabarti said:  “There is an element of whoever you vote for the empire strikes back.

“This is more ambitious than anything that has been done before.  It is a pretty drastic step in a democracy.

“It was resisted under the last government.  The coalition bound itself together in the language of civil liberties.  Do they still mean it?”

Jim Eadie, the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Southern has pointed out the hypocrisy of the Tories, who previously opposed the former Labour government’s plans.

Mr Eadie said:

“This is a desperate attempt to curb and restrict the people’s everyday freedoms by a desperate Tory Government.

“The irony is that when Labour was cooking up this policy in 2006 the Tories – who now want to put it into practice – opposed them. You can’t trust a word the anti-independence parties say.

“I support increasing powers of the authorities where it is appropriate and is targeted in their attempts to tackle organised crime. However, this blanket surveillance goes way too far – it’s like something out of 1984.

“These type of policies are akin to an Orwellian nightmare and have no place in a modern Scotland.

“I fail to see how this attack on privacy will in any way actually improve public safety, it will only lead to making internet use for millions of people far less enjoyable and potentially hike the costs of online companies who will have to be compliant with the UK Government’s demands.”