Government surveillance and internet privacy
In 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed to the world the mass digital surveillance being undertaken by governments, in particular the US and UK. News coverage slowly ebbed away, but campaign groups like Amnesty and Liberty have not forgotten.
Amnesty is taking action against the UK government over concerns that their communications have been unlawfully accessed by the UK intelligence services.
“Because of the global nature of our work, and our sensitive communications with activists around the world, it is highly likely that our communications have been intercepted. It’s unclear what processes exist for deciding what is gathered or who it is shared with in the UK. Our right to privacy protects us so we’re not persecuted for our beliefs, lifestyle or sexual orientation. But it’s being heavily eroded without us really noticing ...
[A] wide net is being cast through our private lives. It’s not being done with any grounds for suspicion, it’s being done to find the grounds for suspicion. It’s a huge rollback of our liberty. At the moment, the justification is to stop terror attacks, but what happens when that justification widens – or when the technology is sold on to less ethical states who use it to root out political opponents and journalists, and to oppress peaceful protest?”
Don’t Spy on Us, a coalition of groups including the National Union of Journalists, believes these surveillance powers affect not only personal online privacy, but also investigative journalism and freedom of expression.
It has got worse, not better
The UK Government response to Snowden’s revelations, rather than restraining surveillance, has legitimised and extended it. In 2016, the UK Government voted in what Liberty called the “most intrusive mass surveillance regime ever introduced in a democracy”.
Its official name is the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA).
Liberty states that, “It gives the authorities the power to collect information about everything we do and say online – on our mobiles and computers – by tapping directly into communications channels, ordering companies to hold on to our data and hacking into people’s devices. It reveals our health problems, our political views, our religious beliefs, our sexual preferences, our daily habits and our every movement.”
Liberty continues to challenge the IPA and the powers the IPA gives to agencies to build ‘bulk personal datasets’ which could leave people open to abuse and discrimination.
Political manipulation and privacy
In 2018, there was another ‘great privacy awakening’. The Cambridge Analytica scandal erupted, and we heard that the personal data from millions of people’s Facebook profiles had been harvested and allegedly used to influence voting in the US presidential election and the EU Referendum. The Electoral Commission has been called on to reopen investigations, after the former head of business development at Cambridge Analytica said that Leave.EU used datasets created by her employer to target voters in the run up to what became the Brexit vote.