Ministers are considering spending up to £12 billion on a database to monitor and store the internet browsing habits, e-mail and telephone records of everyone in Britain.
GCHQ, the government’s eavesdropping centre, has already been given up to £1 billion to finance the first stage of the project.
Hundreds of clandestine probes will be installed to monitor customers live on two of the country’s biggest internet and mobile phone providers – thought to be BT and Vodafone. BT has nearly 5m internet customers.
Officials claim live monitoring is necessary to fight terrorism and crime. However, critics question whether such a vast system can be kept secure. A total of 57 billion text messages were sent in the UK last year – 1,800 every second.
The second is the arrest of Dr Fredrick Toben, an Australian who publishes a holocaust denial website. Toben has been detained in Britain since the 1st of October, when he arrived here by plane. While holocaust denial isn’t a crime in Britain, it is in Germany, and there’s a European Arrest Warrant out against him — for what he wrote on his website while living on the other side of the world.
While Toben’s opinions are both wrong and obnoxious, he shouldn’t be deprived of his liberty for saying them. Chris Huhne is quite right to condemn this:
“The case with Dr Toben exposes a problem in terms of freedom of speech and I come to this as a good, classic liberal. It is a fundamental part of our system that we believe in freedom of speech and, like Voltaire, I may disparage what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
If you add this to the government’s law banning incitement to religious hatred, and their plans to monitor all out telephone and internet activities, and the general trend over the last few decades of reducing civil liberties, where will we end up?
If present trends continue, we will end up as a society where millions of people are scared of saying what they really think. Those caught out won’t be sent to concentration camps. Instead they’ll have to do a few days community service, or have to pay to go on an awareness-raising seminar held at a local hotel. Oh, there will still be elections, and every few years power will alternate between the Conservative wing and the Labour wing of the Authoritarian Party. Of course, nasty people like the BNP won’t be allowed to stand — can’t let them poison minds with their bigotry and hatred, can we? There won’t be a formal ban against the BNP, but anyone agreeing with their views — for example in an email — can expect at the least a stern ticking off and they can say goodbye to that promotion they were expecting.
In short, Britain will become a fascist society. Not a brutal dictatorship like Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia; it’ll be more like Italian fascism under Mussolini. A genteel fascist society, where if you keep your thoughts to yourself, you won’t be molested, and if you are arrested as a political prisoner, it won’t be a death sentence.
What we need now in this country is a government that doesn’t think 1984 is an instruction manual. But until that time, Paranoid Linux is looking more and more necessary.