Helienne Lindvall, writing in guardian.co.uk this morning, identifies the problem we face, when complaining about the steady encroachment of civil liberties: not just that the authorities take a very black and white view, along the lines, “If you are not in favour of it, you must be against it”, or worse, Gordon Brown’s argument “that new state powers were guarantors of liberty, not threats to it”, but that for many of our fellow citizens, why worry,
“Many people are of the opinion that if you’re not doing anything untoward or illegal you have nothing to worry about. This argument has also been used when it comes to the latest news of UK councils snooping on their constituents. But, knowing people who get interrogated every time they pass the US borders (some of them are even US citizens), because they work for perfectly legal organisations like Peta and Amnesty International, I think the expression “in the interest of national security” is open to a wide range of interpretations.”
Her subheading is that regular monitoring is nothing new to Swedish citizens, and
“In fact, I’ve probably been flagged up for writing this.”
You and me both!
If it is not the government, it is the EU prepared to play fast and loose with our civil liberties. See Mark Townsend in The Observer this morning,
“The EU is close to finalising an agreement with the US that would allow the FBI to see the internet browsing habits and credit card histories of UK citizens. However, the prospect of an agreement between Brussels and Washington that will lower barriers to swapping previously private data, including travel history and spending patterns, will alarm civil rights advocates.
Talks about the transfer of highly personal information held by the UK government and leading companies to American security agencies began following the September 2001 terrorist attacks. US counter-terrorism officials argued that increased information on the movements and habits of European residents would help prevent a repeat attack.
Details of a joint report by US and EU negotiators indicate that progress on the agreement is advanced, following years of opposition from European states with stricter privacy laws. One final hurdle still to be cleared is whether British and European citizens can sue the US government over its handling of their personal data.
Another area of concern relates to what ‘appropiate safeguards’ have been agreed to prevent the US authorities from requesting further information such as the religion, political opinion and ‘sexual life’ of a British resident.”
Appropriate safeguards? Don’t hold your breath.
Not long after posting More on 42 days last week, I read The Economist’s take on the erosion of civil liberties in Britain, Mary Poppins and Magna Carta
Liberals have long lamented that, despite much stirring rhetoric about the mother of parliaments and Magna Carta, modern Britons have little real interest in their hard-won liberties. On June 17th, as Gordon Brown gave a speech on the subject, that pessimism seemed confirmed when one rapt listener fell asleep in the middle of the prime minister’s oration.
Much worse, however, was Gordon Brown’s argument “that new state powers were guarantors of liberty, not threats to it.” This was the position taken by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Saddam and most recently Mugabe. Gordon must be pleased he is such good company.