The Impact of the NSA files on the Coalition’s civil liberty record
The NSA files leaked by Edward Snowden to Glen Greenwald (former Guardian journalist) from June 2013 exposed the extent of international surveillance by, supposedly democratic governments, across the world. The leaks found Britain’s intelligence agency (GCHQ) working in conjunction with the National Security Agency (NSA) to bypass each other’s national laws for the sake of internet and communications surveillance. The leaks revealed that not only under the Coalition but under Labour, governments had been acting without any consent, collecting ‘meta data’ on mass, without even cabinet ministers’ knowledge.
Many feel that the NSA and GCHQ have gone too far and that collecting hundreds of billions of international internet and telephone data items is a threat to their civil liberties. Edward Snowden, a self-proclaimed libertarian, perhaps with similar views to the conservative party on migration and welfare, did not intend to harm people’s safety; he also insists that he has not leaked information to Chinese or Russian officials. On an internet forum he once stated that leakers of classified information should be “shot in the balls”. But after being revealed the extent of the surveillance; he knew that citizens should be properly informed.
After looking at the government’s failure to implement surveillance law in the past, it is clear why this information was kept secret. Under Labour, the Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP), a government initiative which meant internet and telephone providers are to store email and telephone contacts for twelve months received strong criticism from the Conservatives . And yet, while in government Theresa May proposed furthering the IMP under the Communications Data Bill (nicknamed the snoopers charter) which would require Internet and mobile providers to keep records of each user’s internet browsing, voice calls, emails, mobile phone messages and even internet gaming for twelve months.
This legislation has not been enacted into law, as even the deputy PM Nick Clegg withdrew his support April last year. He stated that, he had “a number of serious criticisms – not least on scope, proportionality, cost (estimated £1.8 billion), checks and balances, and the need for much wider consultation” . A survey on YouGov found that 71% of Britons “did not trust that the data will be kept secure”, and half described the proposal as “bad value for the money.” Therefore the bill was dropped.
However the NSA leaks, revealed after the Communications Data Bill, are much more widespread and intrusive than the Data Bill would have been. Many have criticised the Conservative’s reaction to the leaks, 70 leading human rights organisations have written an open letter to Cameron in anger of the government’s minimal reaction. Also they criticised the detention of David Miranda another Guardian Journalist under the Terrorism Act 2000 . Nick Clegg has been critical of the government in light of the NSA leaks, and Ed Miliband states that “Labour will make substantial changes to the oversight of British Intelligence agencies.”
The leaks show that the UK government has acted irresponsibly with no accountability. They say ‘if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear’; maybe this should be said to our government.