FOR the first time ever, the serving director of MI5, Andrew Parker, yesterday gave a live BBC interview in a bid to push MPs into sanctioning draconian surveillance powers.
These are contained in the Investigatory Powers Bill, which rights groups and trade unions have dubbed a ‘snoopers’ charter’, that is due to be debated and voted on shortly. Parker sought to create a climate of fear as he claimed that advances in technology are allowing ‘terrorists’ to communicate ‘out of the reach of authorities’.
He said internet companies had an ‘ethical responsibility’ to alert agencies to potential threats and asked that the government be given new powers to make illegal the use of strong encryption, which could lead to the banning of the WhatsApp and iMessage systems. Parker said that encryption was ‘creating a situation where law enforcement agencies and security agencies can no longer obtain under proper legal warrant the contents of communications between people they have reason to believe are terrorists’.
Rights group Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said she was concerned about ‘any attempt to seek a blank cheque from the British public for unlimited surveillance’. It suggests to me that Edward Snowden was right, that vast amounts of private information are being compromised, not just in relation to suspects but entire populations, and that is happening outside the law without public consent or parliamentary debate, let alone the kind of judicial authorisation that I think should be involved.’
In her speech to the TUC Congress on Wednesday, Chakrabarti recognised that the state has the working class in its sights. She told delegates at Brighton: ‘I am here most of all because of the need for solidarity against the current assault on liberty. The new Trade Union Bill and the imminent threat to the Human Rights Act represent a spiteful and ideological attack on rights and freedoms.
‘Forcing dissenters to wear armbands? Forcing them to register with the police? Has this government no history or imagination?’
She added: ‘Government as legislator is simply abusing its power over the statute book to allow it to abuse its power as a big employer … Why should anyone need permission for their freedoms of association and expression including on social media? And it is the same authoritarian instinct motivating the government to scrap our Human Rights Act and even to pull Britain out of the Convention on Human Rights.’
Responding to Cameron’s speech yesterday terming universities as havens for Islamist fanatics, the University and College Union (UCU) warned that the government plans to clamp down on democratic debate in schools, colleges and universities and risked creating mistrust between lecturers and students that threaten freedom of speech.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘Universities and colleges rightly cherish, and must continue to promote, academic freedom as a key tenet of our civilised society. It is essential to our democracy and right to freedom of speech that views are open to debate and challenge within the law.’