Britain's love-affair with mass surveillance began under the Labour government, but it was two successive Conservative governments (one in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who are nominally pro-civil liberties) who took Tony Blair's mass surveillance system and turned it into a vicious, all-powerful weapon. Now, their work is done.
The Snoopers Charter — AKA the "Investigatory Powers Act" — is the most extreme surveillance law in Europe, more extreme that America's Patriot Act and associated presidential orders and secret rulings from the Foreign Intelligence courts. Snowden nailed it when he said it "goes further than many autocracies."
The fact that these new spying powers — which conscript tech companies to do the collection and retention of materials for use by the government, usually in secret — comes even as the ruling Conservative Party is barely holding itself together after the Brexit vote and the rise of nativist, racist, pro-deportation/anti-migrant movements who are working their way into the halls of power. Needless to say, any project of mass roundups and expulsions will rely heavily on the legal and technical capabilities for surveillance that the British state has just claimed for itself.
Surveillance powers outlast the rulers who create them. We are one click away from totalitarianism.
Jim Killock, the executive director of Open Rights Group, said: "The UK now has a surveillance law that is more suited to a dictatorship than a democracy. The state has unprecedented powers to monitor and analyse UK citizens' communications regardless of whether we are suspected of any criminal activity."
Renate Samson, the chief executive of Big Brother Watch, said: "The passing of the investigatory powers bill has fundamentally changed the face of surveillance in this country. None of us online are now guaranteed the right to communicate privately and, most importantly, securely."
'Extreme surveillance' becomes UK law with barely a whimper
[Ewen MacAskill/The Guardian]
(Image: Vladimir Putin and Theresa May, Kremlin.ru, CC-BY)