Sunday, February 03, 2008

The name's Bond ... from the Parish Council

NOW NOT many people know this, but this fine country of ours - or ‘binge-drinking Britain‘ as the tabloids would have it - actually has an Interception of Communications Commissioner.
The Right Honourable Sir Paul Kennedy is his name and, apart from his age (70) and some brief details about his career as a Judge, I can’t find out anything more about him. Still, I expect he’s a thoroughly nice chap.

I’m not sure that the Powers That Be will be thinking so kindly of him this morning because in his organisation’s annual report, published this week, Sir Paul rather blew the whistle on the frightening extent to which we are under the tyrannical thumb of the State Snoopers.

Let me explain. Sir Paul has announced that there are 28,000 applications made to him every month from various public bodies who want to tap the phones, monitor the emails or intercept the post of British citizens. That’s a thousand a day - an astonishing number.

Even worse than that is the quite terrifying number of public bodies which can apply for permission to snoop on your everyday communications. There’s a gob-smacking 800 of them. No, really.

All the usual suspects are there: the cops, MI5 and MI6, the Home Office, the Serious Fraud Office and the Ministry of Justice, which I thought was the Home Office anyway, but there we go.

(Can I just say that I have no problem with the spooks bugging my phone and opening my mail. That’s how they stop wannabe fanatics chopping up British soldiers in a lock-up garage in Birmingham.)

But then there’s HM Revenue and Customs, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the Ministry of Defence and the Financial Services Authority. Borderline, but passable on the grounds of investigating criminality.

Then the really frightening stuff starts. Able to apply to open your post, tap your telephone and bug your emails are the Food Standards Agency, DEFRA, the Environment Agency and the Post Office. Yes, the Post Office. Why? What possible reason could there be for that nice old Mrs Scoggins who dispenses postal orders and first class stamps from behind the counter to have your telephone tapped? Is there really a nationwide investigation into people who’ve been stealing the little bookies’ Biros they keep on bits of string?

But worse, much worse, is the fact that on that list of approved bodies granted a voyeurs’ charter is your local council. I find that terrifying.

Most of our dealings with our local councils are antagonistic. They’ve either refused to empty our bins because there’s a dog hair in the special recyclable left-over avocado container, or they’ve allowed our roads to deteriorate until they resemble the B654 in Basra, or they’re planning to build a mobile telephone mast in the local primary school playground. Either way, we tend to be at odds with them.

So when they grant Orange or O2 permission to radiate our kids, we do what the middle classes all over the country do and form a protest group. We come up with some daft acronym - Villagers Against Giant Incursions of Nastiness At Schools, for example - and we stick up posters, raise petitions and mob council meetings.

But wait. Council officers (full blown members of the Turkey Army and therefore none too bright) could use the fear of the risk of disruption of a public meeting as reason enough to apply to tap the phones and bug the emails of the protest group committee. All of a sudden they not only know what colour the protest posters are going to be or what flavour of muffins Jemima is bringing to the next meeting, but they also know what legal advice you’ve received and how your case is being constructed. It’s hardly fair, is it?

And then there’s the possible abuse by the truly bent; the corrupt councillor or malleable planning official. (You think our MPs are on the fiddle? Trust me. I’ve seen far worse cases of blatant dishonesty on local councils down the years.)

So you’re an eager young reporter on the local paper who gets a sniff about something amiss. So you start asking awkward questions. The next thing you know - or don’t know, to be precise - is that every phone call, every email and every letter is being delivered into the hands of your target? Again, hardly fair, is it?

But of course, you say, these things are subject to careful checks and balances. No-one would get the nod to open my red electric bills without a High Court judge weighing the evidence against my basic human right to freedom and privacy. Ah, but might I refer the reader to the fourth paragraph of this piece? They’re getting 1,000 applications a day. The Right Honourable Sir Paul Kennedy might be acting in the best of intentions, but in reality he can be little more judgemental than a nodding dog with a rubber stamp, or one of those weird ostrich things that you dip in a glass of water.

No-one can possibly assess the pros and cons of every single one of these applications. There just isn’t the time. Therefore you can be assured that many, if not most, merely go through on the nod.

And the only thing left to tell you is that this stupid and dangerous law is, in fact, an EU Directive. But then you’d probably already guessed that, hadn’t you?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may well be an EU directive - but the rest of Europe isn't carrying it out with the same enthusiasm - German websites, for instance, were agog at the judge's report.

11:51 PM  
Anonymous D34L3R said...

I best stop sending smack through the post, all be it special delivery.

1:32 AM  
Anonymous riddler said...

just to be picky - it's a hundred a working day. doesn't really affect your tirade though.

11:17 AM  
Anonymous aaresscee said...

Pity that none of the nerds have come up with the techonology to show you exactly which nosey bastard is ogling the e-mail at any given time, and give you the ability to highlight their name, press Ctrl-Alt-Delete and scrub the bastards from the face of the planet!
Nice thought that - innit?

8:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you've all missed the point. A few years ago all this 'secret squirrel' stuff went on without anyone (except the snoopers themselves) knowing about it. Now, because someone has to officially authorise all this, we know the extent. But like Baz, I'm not too worried about MI5 doing a bit of eaves-dropping if it means that I can hop on a tube or pop into the pub without having to worry whether I'll ever emerge again. Nor am I worried about them listening in on a 'privileged' conversation between a suspected terrorist and an MP who seems to take a special interest in cases like that. What worries me is that the spooks will pass on some interesting snippet to HMRC or DVA or some such. Remember, after years of investigation, what did the Feds get Al Capone on? Tax evasion, that's what!

6:13 AM  
Anonymous skydog said...

''Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.''

Benjamin Franklin.

Now we have neither. But we know who the enemy is.

8:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just finished re-reading George Orwell's 1984.

6:09 AM  

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