The scariest thing you have never heard of

On 30th December 2016 the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (more commonly known as the Snoopers’ Charter) came into force; suffocating personal privacy and liberty without so much as a whimper from Labour or the SNP.

Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the government has achieved unprecedented surveillance powers over its own citizens and now has the ability to indiscriminately monitor, record, hack and spy on the communications and internet use of everyone in the country.

With the official opposition in disarray and unable (and even in many cases unwilling) to scrutinise the government’s actions and challenge the narrative that state security automatically overrides and supersedes the protection of civil liberties without a second thought, the result has been the slow but steady growth of the state’s industrial-scale espionage on its own citizens and the erosion of the liberty safe-guards put in place by the Liberal Democrats while in government.

While much ink has been spilt on the consequences of this Act – most notably in the LDV articles written by Elliott Motson, Alistair Carmichael and Tim Farron – many consequences have only been seen in isolation. Ironically, legislation designed for a modern digital age becomes the more dangerous when coupled with one of the earliest – A Bill of Attainder.

A Bill (and then Act) of Attainder is an act of a legislature that declares a person or group of people guilty of a crime and punishing them, often without a trial, by a simple majority vote in the House of Commons.  In short, the design and effect of such legislation is to nullify the target’s civil rights and liberties.

While such bills have fallen out of favour, they have not been forgotten. In December 1942 the Cabinet discussed their possible use for summary executions of any leading Nazis that fell into British custody without the need for due legal process. Such a policy was only abandoned when Richard Law, a cabinet minister at the time, dissuaded Churchill from pursuing it by highlighting that even the Soviet Union still favoured open trials based on evidence.

Such an example, while exceptional, proves the point. While it is difficult to see a Bill of Attainder being passed in isolation the data collected on our nation’s citizens (or certain groups of citizens) through the Investigatory Powers Act could provide enough ‘evidence’ that the government would consider the situation exceptional enough to warrant the case (or, as they may phrase it, the need) for a Bill of Attainder to imprison or deport those that have been deemed ‘risks to the security of the state’ without the need for the balanced and evidence-based judicial system.

With the official opposition quickly becoming such in name only and the government’s majority predicted to rise at the next General Election, it may not take much to turn the hypothetical to the possible – or even the probable.

* Alex Hegenbarth is the Lib Dem PPC for the Tewkesbury constituency

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8 Comments

  • “without so much as a whimper from Labour or the SNP.”

    Alex, I agree with the main thrust of your post, but I do wish you wouldn’t over egg the holier than thou Lib Dem pudding. It does us no good.

    When the House divided and the bill was voted on Labour and the SNP turned out in force to oppose it, but only 4 of 8 of the Lib Dem MP’s turned up.

    A whole stream of amendments was pursued by Joanna Cherry Q.C. (SNP MP Edinburgh SW) – so please – argue against the Act by all means but don’t get too partisan. You never know – we might even form a Labour/SNP/Lib Dem Coalition Government in 1920 under Prime Minister Dan Jarvis (screams of shock horror from certain faint hearted Orangistas).

  • Alex Hegenbarth 23rd Feb '17 - 7:21pm

    @David

    Hopefully not re any form of electoral alliance with Labour (considering they did nothing to block the Snooper’s Charter or protect civil liberties in general), nor with the SNP (who want to break up the Union) – but I take your point.

    However, when it comes to the Lib Dems I admit freely that I am wholey and unashamedly partisan.

  • Well said Alex. The Snoopers Charter slipped through with far too little challenge and scrutiny while many were distracted by Brexit.

    The powers that the security services enjoy are exceptional, and should be seen as a privilege granted by the people via parliament, and not a right to be assumed by the Government of the day. However that privilege should be based on the informed consent of the people, and I don’t believe that such informed consent was really granted when the bill was nodded through with the support of a compliant opposition who required only an amendment to protect MP’s own web browsing histories.

  • Andy Coleby 24th Feb '17 - 8:08am

    One thing that does disturb me is the fact that a head of Liberty would no
    doubt oppose the Snoopers Charter then joins a party who had an appalling contempt for liberty when in power under Blair and Brown.

  • Andy – she did oppose it very actively and vocally during it’s previous incarnation. She was then ennobled by Corbyn and took a seat on the Labour benches in the House of Lords where she then failed to meaningfully oppose it this time round.

    To say I was disappointed would be an understatement………

  • Andy Coleby 24th Feb '17 - 8:48am

    I note from the website of Liberty that they are “launching a landmark legal challenge” to the “Snoopers Charter”.
    I was not aware of this and it is does not seem to have been generally reported.
    I would have thought that The Times would have revealed this, but I have not yet read anything .

  • I know many people concluded we were too rushed in agreeing to the coalition in 2010, but what’s this coalition we’re considering joining in 1920?

  • @ Simon Banks…….Apologies. Living in the past again. Should be 2020.

    Back in 1920 some Libs were in the Lloyd George/Tory coalition, whilst the Asquith Libs were not. Ever since then Libs have been in a bit of a confuse about coalitions. More recent evidence is that if you ride on the back of a Tory crocodile don’t be surprised if you get gobbled up.

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