And now for something a lot scarier than any fictional horror tale: STATE SNOOPING. Documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden to the Guardian newspaper exposed unprecedented mass surveillance being undertaken by UK and USA spying agencies, GCHQ and NSA.
The UK has become one of the most spied on nations in the world. Virtually everything we do online, email communications, the websites we visit, is secretly being monitored and stored by the security services. In 2013 the Investigatory Powers bill, knows as the Snooper's Charter, was simply an attempt by the government to make this unwarranted surveillance legal. Our telephone calls are logged en masse by our own spies and sometimes recorded, while computers of law abiding citizens can and have been hacked and infested with malware. In 2013 our MPs rightly decided not to proceed with the Snooper's Charter. But since 2011 or earlier the spies have been doing it anyway, and with virtually no accountability for their actions. GCHQ and NSA are spying on millions of innocent citizens every day of the week. An estimated 850,000 employees and contractors worldwide have access to the secret material.
On Tuesday 29th November 2016, The Investigatory Powers Act, or Snooper's Charter, became law. The act requires web and phone companies to store everyone’s web browsing histories for 12 months and give the police, security services and official agencies unprecedented access to our private data. Home Secretary Amber Rudd hailed these new snooping powers as “world-leading legislation.” The same Amber Rudd later resigned in disgrace for misleading parliament over an entirely different matter: the Windrush scandal.
Even our daily travels are monitored like never before. The Guardian discovered that the number of police CCTV cameras trained on Britain's roads provides police forces and the intelligence agencies access to up to 26 million images a day. While a national database that stores pictures taken by automated numberplate recognition (ANPR) cameras currently has 17 billion images in its archive - the largest database of its kind anywhere in the world. And that's before we get round to discussing intrusive police-operated facial recognition cameras, which appear to becoming even more common on the streets of the UK.
Mainland Europe is furious at the levels of GCHQ and NSA spying. The UK government, meanwhile, along with a large number of politicians from all three main parties appear to have no concerns about their constituents right to privacy and would like to sweep news of this mass surveillance project under the carpet. Politicians such as Cameron, Hague, Carlile, Straw, David Milliband, Clarke and Reid (all the usual suspects), urged on no doubt by our spying agencies and the likes of Charles Farr at the Home Office, prefer instead to keep schtum or attack the Guardian for merely reporting the truth.
Experience has taught us over the years that whenever Governments are guilty of wrongdoing, the perpetrators use "national security" as an excuse to maintain secrecy and avoid further investigation. Secret courts are potentially another travesty of justice. The present Government has an unhealthy obsession with them. There has been huge controversy in the media around closed family courts, super injunctions and civil cases involving "national security". Note those two words again: national security.
So what has the Establishment got to hide? Well rather a lot, actually. It transpires that our security agencies are not just spying on enemy governments or terrorists. The Huffington Post reports that the NSA has been gathering records of "online sexual activity" and visits to pornographic websites. This is part of a proposed plan to discredit or blackmail selected people with their sexual habits. Not to be undone, GCHQ is routinely copying and storing the internet communications of millions of innocent people, turning us all from law-abiding citizens into suspects. Indeed, BT - one of the UK's biggest communications providers - refuses to deny that it hands over data on millions of customers in bulk to Government agencies such as GCHQ.
We are not the enemy
There is still much to love about our country. Many have died defending our freedoms and those freedoms should not be given up easily. But many politicians seem to care little about the public's right to privacy - although they certainly care about their own. Our hard-won civil liberties, once admired by people from around the globe, are disappearing fast. Thanks to the Snowden revelations, it is all too apparent that the Establishment is throwing those freedoms away. It has done so without asking us first for the right to do so.
Thanks to Edward Snowden, we know that GCHQ has been spying on Youtube, Facebook, and Blogger users in "real time" and even tracking the personal information of Angry Bird players. The former head of GCHQ, 53-year-old Iain Lobban, has recently stepped down. The Foreign Office claims that he did an "outstanding job." Sadly, our friends at the Foreign Office were unable to explain the link between GCHQ spying on Angry Bird users, acts of terrorism, and threats to national security.
Our government also refuses to discuss why GCHQ has been secretly intercepting and storing webcam images of millions of Yahoo users from the UK and around the world. Yahoo denies prior knowledge of GCHQ's alleged programme, describing it as a "completely unacceptable" privacy violation. According to leaked documents, sexually explicit images were among those gathered by GCHQ - although, they claim, not intentionally.
Yahoo states: "This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy that is completely unacceptable and we strongly call on the world's governments to reform surveillance law consistent with the principles we outlined in December. We are committed to preserving our users' trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services."
Meanwhile, the computer-illiterate ex-PM David Cameron lost all credibility when he cited the success of fictional television spies as reason for reviving the controversial Snoopers Charter. Since Cameron can't tell the difference between fact and fiction, maybe he should watch Enemy of the State, which shows how governments can abuse such information. Emma Carr, of Big Brother Watch, has a more sensible solution. Emma said, 'Perhaps the Prime Minister should read President Obama’s independent surveillance review rather than relying on television programmes.'
and openness are the building blocks of any successful democratic society.
Mass surveillance has nothing to do with democracy, it is the conduct of a
totalitarian regime. No one is saying that suspected terrorists should not
be monitored. But this wholesale spying of the population is not really about
terrorism, it's about CONTROL, and that makes the Establishment
a far greater threat to our freedom than any terrorist group. Our security
agencies are undoubtedly angels compared to their Russian counterparts. But
who's to say when that might change?