Data bill is ‘new Big Brother’: Manchester activist slams ‘Orwellian’ government for trying to force through law

A Manchester activist has claimed the government are using George Orwell’s 1984 as a ‘handbook’ as it tries to push through new laws that threatens to further encroach on people’s privacy.

The new legislation is being rushed through parliament this week after Prime Minister David Cameron attracted cross-party support for a law allowing internet service providers (ISPs) and telecoms companies to keep records of calls, texts and internet usage. 

Open Rights Group Manchester (ORG) member Chris Hilliard, 26, told MM that Mr Cameron was wrong for trying to push the RIPA bill through parliament without an open discussion.

“Not having an open debate is problematic because it goes against the EU courts and judiciary. It is also problematic because the three parties have come together against the populace,” said Chris.

“The concept of them being able to view things is quite concerning.”

And with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats on-board as well as the opposition in the form of Labour, Chris has also claimed that the Government has tried to rush the bill through under the nose of the public.

“That they managed to get cross-party support for something that is so questionable and thought it would sneak through without a campaign is a concern,” said Chris.

“This doesn’t seem to be a party that cares about re-election, but wants to get what it wants.”

Chris also said the Government ‘didn’t have the data retention bill before the IRA bombed Manchester and they don’t need it now’.

“He added: “This government has ignored Orwell’s 1984 as a warning and instead takes it as a handbook.”

The famous dystopian novel, written by British author George Orwell, depicted a society that was watched at every turn, to make sure that one conformed to how its leaders dictated.

It is where the famous term ‘Big Brother’ originates from.

In April, the European Court of Justice (CJEU) struck down the legislation’s precursor the Data Retention Directive because it breached rights to privacy and protection of personal data

Since then, ORG has written to the Government to ask them to stop trying to enforce EU data retention laws that are no longer valid.

In addition, more than 1,500 Open Rights Group supporters have contacted their ISPs asking them to stop retaining their data.

Members have also been urged to get in touch with MPs. Hilliard was among them and got in touch with Tatton‘s George Osborne.

The Chancellor of Exchequer responded with a Home Office briefing that identified the consequences of the legislation being blocked as ‘grave’.

“Communications data and interception helps keep people safe from terrorists and other serious, dangerous criminals,” said Osborne.

“Communications data is used in 95 per cent of all serious and organised crime prosecutions, and every major counter-terrorism investigation over the last decade.

“We are also restricting the number of public bodies that can ask for communications data and publishing annual transparency reports. This will make more information publicly available than ever before.”

“I believe that the action we are taking will ensure we maintain powers to help keep us safe from those who would harm UK citizens”

The group are also considering legal action after whistle-blower Edward Snowden brought to light further revelations about UK cyber security agency GCHQ in an interview with the Guardian.

And further leaks this week have shown full extent of power the agency had to modify online information, including: altering polls, accessing private Facebook images and sending spoof emails to appear to be from Blackberry users.

And ORG’s Executive Director, Jim Killock, has questioned the Government’s claims that national security justifies more intrusion into privacy with no outright conflict on the homefront.

“The government knows that since the CJEU ruling, there is no legal basis for making internet service providers retain our data so it is using the threat of terrorism as an excuse for getting this law passed,” Mr Killock said.

“The Government has had since April to address the CJEU ruling but it is only now that organisations such as ORG are threatening legal action that this has become an ‘emergency’’’

He added: “Not only will the proposed legislation infringe our right to privacy, it will also set a dangerous precedent where the government simply re-legislates every time it disagrees with a decision by the CJEU.

“The ruling still stands and these new plans may actually increase the amount of our personal data that is retained by ISPs, further infringing on our right to privacy.

“Blanket surveillance needs to end. That is what the court has said.”

Chris agreed and called for the Government to lift the lid on their monitoring activities.

He said: “I believe there is a right to privacy. I don’t want to know what to know what people in the Government are having for lunch. All I’m asking for is transparency for an open society.”

Image courtesy of James, with thanks.

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