Right-wing press support snoopers’ bill even without judges’ oversight

Papers are suddenly relaxed about the 'big state'


The attitude of many conservatives towards the role of the state is a curious one. While they rail against the ‘nanny state’ of welfare and human rights, they are strangely relaxed about the threat of a police state of covert surveillance. They’re all for a big state so long as the big state isn’t being nice to people.

Coverage of today’s proposals for a resurrected ‘snooper’s charter’, or Investigatory Powers Bill (IPB), are a case in point.

We learn from the liberal Guardian that home secretary Theresa ‘Maggie’ May will push for access to a list of all the websites you and I visit, stored by internet companies for 12 months and handed over to the government on production of a warrant. This despite the move being denounced by the European Court of Justice and the UK high court as a plain violation of our rights and privacy.

It gets worse. This passage from the Graun jumped out:

“The draft investigatory powers bill will also enshrine in statute GCHQ’s licence to hack into computers worldwide, including powers to sweep up content of a computer or smartphone, listen to phonecalls, track locations or even switch on the microphones or cameras on mobile phones. The powers, known as ‘computer network exploitation’, even allow them to record conversations or snap pictures of anyone nearby the device.”

As a friend points out, the term ‘Orwellian’ is overused to the point of cliche, but state surveillance of this kind, with our own mobile telescreens being used to spy on us, really does warrant the invocation.

It’s a surprise then to find our bullish newspapers, which like nothing better than to trounce ‘big state’ encroachment, not only failing to oppose these moves, but finding voice to enthusiastically support them.

Here’s the Sun:

“Only a fool would not want to give our security services the powers they need to protect us. And Theresa May needs to be able to do her job properly. We must not tie their hands.”

The paper’s editorial ‘Let May Decide’ continues: ‘Giving judges the power to review snooping applications might seem like a good idea. But in the real world it would have made sense to let the home secretary – who’s answerable to parliament – decide.’

There follow some vague caveats, but the piece (which reads like a hasty last minute re-write) sticks to the view that judicial oversight is an obstacle to Big Mother Theresa keeping us safe.

The Sun‘s Murdoch stablemate paper, the Times, is little better, running spy fever stories and editorials and gaining (ooh!) ‘exclusive access’ to GCHQ’s headquarters. (To their credit, they also ran a piece by Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, to argue against the bill.)

The usually punchy Daily Mail has had nothing to say on the matter, running today with a story about how the bill will curb the petty tyranny of local councils!

On and on it goes. The Telegraph’s only recent piece fretted about the added bureaucracy of judicial oversight:

“Why risk a judge deciding the whole procedure is in need of judicial review? […] who would be held accountable if a warrant was not signed and people died as a result?”

Valid concerns perhaps, but ones that would rather err on the side of arbitrary surveillance.

So much then for the all the ‘big state’ rhetoric in the press. When government agents really tread on the public’s lawn, right-wing newspapers hold their coats.


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Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter

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