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Britain’s human rights record: things can only get worse

police-state-dangerThe revelation that the US National Security Agency and FBI were enabled in a major international snooping operation to access the systems of 9 of the world’s biggest internet companies and then to share that information with GCHQ, the UK giant eavesdropping and security agency, without ordinary US and British citizens being aware that their phone and online transactions were being observed, highlights yet again how the internet is being manipulated by State agencies routinely to breach basic civil liberties and rights to privacy.

We are told it is necessary to keep track of terrorists – though significantly these sweeping powers failed to detect and apprehend either the US Boston terrorists or the UK Woolwich terrorists – and no-one would object to all reasonable measures being taken to protect citizens from terrorists, including by clandestine means.

But the objection over this latest discovery is (i) that its reach goes far, far beyond what is necessary for entrapment of terrorists and paves the way for a generalised fishing expedition aimed at eavesdropping on the correspondence of everybody about everything, and (ii) that it allows this US-run programme entitled ‘Prism’ to get round the formal legal process required to obtain emails, photos and videos and other personal material from an internet company outside the UK.

In this context these latest revelations follow hard on the heels of a UN Committee against Torture report published a week ago which lists 40 different areas where UK government behaviour needs to improve if it is to get a seal of approval from the UN. After the UK government’s refusal to hold a public inquiry into the State’s involvement in the murder of the Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane and the forced removal of Tamil asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka, the hgihly controversial Justice and Security Act coming into force next month will tarnish the UK record yet further.

It could be used to deploy hearsay evidence or evidence obtained through torture. The new secrecy regime could also be used to conceal evidence of UK human rights violations, including torture, which many believe could well be the real intention of the new law.

There are several other areas where UK government action needs to come clean. It should not rely on unreliable and ineffective diplomatic assurances in order to deport ‘undesirables’ to countries where they risk being tortured, including in particular Sri Lanka. It should abolish non-jury trials in Northern Ireland. It should ensure that the police only fire Taser guns when there is a real and immediate threat to life or risk of serious injury. It should secure the release from Guantanamo of the British prisoner there, Shaker Aamer.

It should establish a public or judicial inquiry into the UK’s involvement in torture overseas. And it should set up inquiries into human rights violations committed during the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.

One Comment

  1. Rob says:

    I doubt this would be a surprise to people, and I’m sure British intelligence would be happy for any information so would the DWP and any other group who uses information.

    Not long ago Labour brought in laws to be able to check anyones bank accounts without even asking a court of law, even down to checking your store card to see if your living beyond your means.

    So this is no surprise I’d bed surprised if they were not doing it.

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