It’s the anniversary of George Orwell’s death today – and HMRC seem to be marking the occasion with adverts in cashpoints celebrating their emerging status as the Big Brother of Britain.
The above picture, which I took the other day from a cashpoint, shows a pair of female eyes staring and blinking at you as you take our you money, with the clear message from the taxman: be warned, we have the power to pry. Not yet they don’t: the Snooping Bill has been attacked in parliament and looks like it may not survive.
The disingenuous rationale for the Bill was that it would help MI5 crack down on terrorists who use new ways of communicating. As the jihadis change their tactics, ran the argument, you need to let our spies do the same. This is bunkum. The spies already have powers to intercept anything that can be categorised as a ‘communication’ which can include anything from a smoke signal to General Petraeus-style method of writing a ‘draft’ email and then changing it without sending it.
What the Snooping Bill would do is force email providers to keep records of who messages whom and when, and hand it to the tax man when he pries. The Snooping Bill is mainly intended to arm government with new ways to spy on its citizens, in ways that Orwell would immediately recognise. This June would have marked his 110th birthday. It would be encouraging if Cameron’s government marked the occassion with a Bill of Rights protecting the privacy of the citizen from the snooping powers of the state.
UPDATE As if to mark Orwell Week, the Prime Minister has declared perpetual war – well, a generational war anyway – against African jihadis and another journalist has been charged by the Crown Prosecution Service.