One of life’s unwritten rules is that you don’t read somebody else’s diary – the exception being the plethora of published journals from politicians and writers who have printed their day-to-day experiences for public consumption. There’s a world of difference between picking up one of those in a book shop and snooping through the diary of a spouse, friend or family member that they have deliberately stuffed under a pillow or inside a drawer to hide from prying eyes. Privacy does not necessarily equate with secrecy; we are all entitled to record what goes on in our heads for our own specific reasons and have no need to justify doing so. There’s nothing criminal in having something to hide if what you’re hiding is your innermost thoughts.
Diaries strip away the facade we present to the rest of the world and are unique personal time capsules that capture a moment in ways that posed photographs don’t. After penning our thought for the day, it can be years before we even return to what we wrote; the Radio 4 series ‘My Teenage Diary’, in which noted names voluntarily read aloud the adolescent angst they documented decades before, often reveals as much to the author as to the audience. But the prospect of others perusing them while the ink has barely dried on the page is a gross invasion of privacy on a par with burglary. Like many (I suspect), I suffered that indignity as a teenager and didn’t begin writing a diary again until I was well into my thirties and living alone.
As a renowned God-botherer, Theresa May clearly thinks she was put on this earth to do His work, and her self-righteous missionary zeal was evident in her dismissive attitude to personal privacy and the rights of the ordinary citizen during her six-year stint as Home Secretary. With the convenient smokescreen of combating cyberspace Paedos and home-grown Jihadists, she was forever pushing for greater access to the public’s online activity, as though it was her divine right to be an omnipotent presence in every aspect of our lives. Now that she is top of the political pile she has even greater clout to play Big Brother – or Big Mama. She’s the nosy mother who stumbles upon your teenage diary when she’s Hoovering your bedroom and sits down on the bed to have a good read of it.
Whilst what we do and where we go online is a different kettle of fish from jotting down what we’re thinking in a diary, it’s still something we engage in on our own and don’t broadcast to the nation for various reasons; it’s nobody’s business but ours. The common cliché of private browsing being a euphemism for jerking off to porn sites is misleading, but misleading in a way that suits the Investigatory Powers Bill (the so-called ‘Snoopers Charter’) that the Government is determined will become law. Of course, the most embarrassing internet surfing in terms of it being shared with strangers usually does involve detours down ‘adult’ avenues, though the legislation that has already passed unopposed through the Lords doesn’t concern itself solely with money shots or DIY explosives manuals; it covers everything.
The Investigatory Powers Bill is the kind of outrageously intrusive legislation one takes as a given in China, Russia or North Korea and would have accepted as par for the course had the internet existed in the era of the GDR or USSR. When (rather than if) it becomes law, the Government and their affiliated security services will have easy access to your personal phone records and internet traffic, and service providers will be forced to preserve your browsing data for twelve months, obliged to hand over that information to the authorities should they request it. However, there is a telling caveat, one that emphasises the Us and Them divide between Westminster and the electorate in the same way that the one drinking den exempt from the smoking ban happened to be situated in the Houses of Parliament – MPs will not be subject to such mandatory snooping. Sounds like a fair deal, doesn’t it?
Millions of people in the United Kingdom already have endless personal details on the files of internet service providers, banks, insurance companies, eBay, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter et al – whether through choice or necessity – so the info is there waiting to be perused by Government agencies like the untapped natural resource of a colonised country; the Investigatory Powers Bill will legitimise their reasons for perusing it. It brands everyone as a potential threat to the Realm in the same way a CRB check brands every adult seeking to educate children a potential paedophile.
News of the proposals in the legislation was masterfully buried beneath the extended convulsions that followed Trump’s triumph in the US Presidential Election, and had an online petition opposed to its implementation not appeared, it’s doubtful many would even be aware of it. I don’t recall it attaining headline status on any news or current affairs show on any mainstream broadcaster, oddly enough.
I’m under no illusions that those nice chaps at GCHQ already do what the hell they like with our privacy regardless of what the law currently says, and I know from personal experience that employees of a certain police force can dig in search of dirt to their heart’s content, whether or not they’re legally entitled to do so. But with the Investigatory Powers Bill just weeks away from gaining Royal Assent and then being added to the statue book, no longer will the spies, spooks and snoopers have to officially circumnavigate their way around our rights to keep an eye on us. The law will give them carte-blanche to do so, and there’s nothing we can do about it. This might help, however…
© The Editor