Why extra surveillance is a blow to liberty

28th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Why extra surveillance is a blow to liberty

The European Parliament is most often criticised for being remote from the citizens it claims to represent.

Not any more.

The parliament is reported to have just taken a decision that will mean it is never further away than your phone or Internet connection.

The Guardian newspaper in the UK reports that the collective legislature has decided to give police powers to access communications data on every phone and Internet user.

Under its legislation companies will have to keep records of calls and online activity for an indefinite period.

And if all that surveillance still leaves you feeling ignored, you can draw comfort from the further knowledge that police will be able to track people's movements via their mobile phones.

The debate over individual liberties and social control is never-ending, and public opinion varies over time.

Right now is probably the best of times for people advocating intrusive controls. Just shout the word "terror" and all policing measures are justified.

Since September 11, sacrificing civil liberties in order to better pursue and detain a few terror suspects has been the order of the day for parliaments from Canberra to London.

But even with the shift in the balance between individual liberty and the protection of society, the European Parliament appears to have taken off on a path of its own.

Give police the power to track everyone with a mobile phone and everyone has become a suspect and a legitimate surveillance target.

The presumption of innocence has been replaced by a policy of: "Let's follow everyone and see if they behave."

Since September 11 everyone from President Bush down has insisted that the war on terror must not mean the destruction of the principles and freedoms which are fundamental to a liberal democracy.

If those principles go, the terrorists win.

Well, if the European Parliament's grab for sweeping surveillance powers succeeds, the forces bent on destroying liberal democracies can chalk up a significant win.

3 June 2002

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