Nestled in the U.K. government’s new plans for anti-extremist activities are certain elements which, in the minds of some privacy advocates and others, constitute a kind of crackdown or reduction on the rights and powers of citizens in a democracy.
As reported in the Guardian last week, Prime Minister David Cameron has unveiled new marching orders for law enforcement, and new rules for various kinds of Internet broadcasting and other media. Some of these measures allow police to apply for court orders to crack down on what the government calls – “harmful activities” that are a risk of “public disorder, harassment” or cause “alarm or distress.”
There’s also a proposal to require social media and web broadcasts actually be shown to government officials prior to broadcasting. This is a particularly onerous rule, for which the logistics seem a bit difficult, not to mention a huge burden on independent media sources that already work hard to get unpopular or obscure messages out to citizens.
Also, U.K. law enforcement may try to close down places of worship, community centers or other areas where extremism may be perceived.
The Party Rationale
“For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.” Cameron is quoted in the Guardian as saying. “This government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach. As the party of one nation, we will govern as one nation and bring our country together.”
Interestingly enough, Cameron cites freedom of speech, freedom of worship and democracy as values being promoted by this legislation. However, the Guardian report also mentions another bill proposed in correlation to these activities, that some have nicknamed the “eavesdropping law” or the “snooper’s charter” that relates to getting more information from mobile devices and the Internet.
To many ears, Cameron’s tales of promoting freedoms through extensive government intrusion don’t ring true. In a piece on The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald contends that these plans should sound “menacing, tyrannical and even fascist” to the average person. Greenwald also notes some tricky responses by Tory Home Secretary Theresa May, who could not, when pressed, concretely identify what extremism would mean and how these new measures could be applied. And, as someone on the vanguard of privacy concerns and responses to government overreach, Greenwald also looks at the puzzle pieces, including anti-Islamic sentiment, and how the world’s leading democracies may be giving away too much for what they’re getting
In a world where we’re all the more likely to be extensively tracked by government and business parties, there is a considerable backlash and a social movement involved in protecting civil liberties. Some of this means using the tools at the individual’s disposal, such as VPNs proxies and anonymous forums, to take advantage of technology in ways that serve the individual’s interest. But ultimately, societies will have to negotiate that careful balance between security and privacy, between the rights of the individual and the common good.