A few days ago a story broke about recommendations to 'TIDY' up a lot of old laws and rules such as the official secrets act with a new piece of legislation to be called the updated Espionage Act. this would include a number of currently separate laws dating back to the early part of last century, bringing them together and updating them for the 21st century.
On the surface it sounds innocuous, taking a lot of out of date stuff and cleaning up the wording, important that, for national security in this modern age of terrorist threats and constant warnings of RUSSIAN INVASION.
Plus we have the assurance of a spokesperson from number 10 that “This is a consultation by an independent body instigated by a previous prime minister,” a No 10 source said. “It will never be our policy to restrict the freedom of investigative journalism or public service whistle blowing.”
I didn't mention that last bit yet so for those of you who may not have caught the news, the proposed change includes ALL governmental data that is considered sensitive not just the older definition of data whose release would threaten the safety and security of the nation. All sensitive data specifically including economic data, governmental reports on economic policies or Whitehall reports on the expected economic consequences of, say, Brexit.
So given its current form the recommendation would be that anyone leaking government reports on Brexit, say on the negotiations, trade agreements, the single market terms and conditions, anything like that, would be guilty of a violation of national security under the new Espionage Act with a recommended maximum sentence of 14 years.
Think about that for a minute, leaking a government report about Brexit negotiations, sending a newspaper a copy of a government email saying they knew Austerity wouldn't work but went ahead with it anyway as a matter of policy.
Wham, bang, thank you ma'am, go to gaol, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
Plus to spread the love around the person who leaked it, the journalist who revealed it, maybe even the editor or publisher who put it into the news, worst case the newsreader who spoke about it on the TV news. It's an equal opportunity law, spill the beans and off with your head.
The legal wording is looking likely to change from 'Share' information deemed vital to national security to 'Obtain, Gather or Share' information deemed 'Sensitive' to the government.
That's one heck of a change, get hold of anything you're not supposed to see, share it, even just having it becomes a criminal offence.
We don't have the police or security services rounding up journalists lovers at airports, or going into newspaper offices and destroying hard drives that MAY contain data the government doesn't want leaked.
This is Britain, gleaming example of democracy, mother of all parliaments, bastion of freedom.
It's not like we have some of the most authoritarian digital monitoring laws in the world, far exceeding not just other western democracies but also worse than many dictatorships and police states.
What's that, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016!
Oh. BUGGER !
Still Downing Street is assuring us this is just a consultation, it won't be used to intimidate potential whistle blowers. They have even helpfully pointed out it was started in 2015 under a previous Prime Minister.
Wait, 2015, wasn't that Cameron? Official secrets act, espionage, national security, sounds like something the home secretary of the time would have been heavily involved in rather than the PM.
Now I wonder who the home secretary was in 2015?
Anyway it's just a consultation, just a proposal, it's not intended to shut down leaks or whistle blowers who are releasing information the public should know about the activities of their own government.
“More alarmingly still, the commission says there should be no statutory public-interest defence for anyone accused of the offences."
Oh. BUGGER !
But it's just a proposal, a consultation, a draft of legislation that still need to be voted into law by parliament under the guidance of our government and Prime Minister.
No need to be worried yet, ah. It may never happen, it's not like we have the most police state Prime Minister in a century at the controls of UKplc.
Oh. BUGGER !
Some more history.
2008. The Labour government of the day proposed to clean up and modernise data collection for the digital age with a scheme called the 'Interception Modernisation Programme', this then led to the Communications Data Bill 2008. This law was intended to allow the security services to collect all phone numbers dial, the destinations of all emails sent and all web sites visited for those under surveillance though the actual contents would not have been recorded unless a specific warrant was issued. Sounds familiar, no?
This was stopped because the Tories and Lib Dems both opposed it, the Lib Dems called it 'Orwellian' and the Conservative opposition strongly opposed such intrusive legislation. Oh how things change.
2010. After the general election the Tories and Labour found themselves in a deadlock, neither had enough MPs to form a government. Enter our heroes the Lib Dems who had a bit of a chat, were offered a few cabinet seats and jumped into the Tory boat.
Home Secretary Theresa 'Police State' May promptly bought in a draft Communications Data Bill which was apart from changing the wording around, basically the same thing the Tory opposition had strongly opposed in 2008. This was apparently aimed at 2012/13 coming into law 2014 and was supported by both the Tories AND the Lib Dems, ye, the same lot who had called it Orwellian only a few years ago. My how being in power changes your outlook.
2013. The Lib Dems changed their minds, again, or yet again since this was the second change of mind and went back to opposing the Orwellian law that they had been working for mere months before. So it was stopped.
But by then it had been in the news as the Snoopers Charter a number of times, as it was proposed and blocked over several years, the first time it was raised led to huge media pressure, the second time not so much. The third year it was almost a joke, the Snoopers Charter rises from the grave again. It became part of the background, the fear faded away and was replaced by humour. Most people stopped worrying about it.
2016. The Lib Dems got the proverbial kick in the teeth, Labour was a shambles and the Tories hung onto the government, only this time without the Lib Dems. First order of business for Theresa 'Police State' May, bring back the snoopers charter. Only this time the wording was changed again, there was more political oversight and it was called the Investigatory Powers Bill. The media promptly called it the new snoopers charter and everyone associated it with the old bill and its year after year failure.
Which is why, I think, people didn't scream and leap on the new bill to kill it at birth and instead it rolled through the system and became law. Just calling it the snoopers charter bought back memories of years ago, the danger of that had faded, people had become used to it. They hadn't noticed the water boiling because it had happened so slowly.
2017. It became law and your web surfing, your phone calls and email destinations are recorded and archived so if anyone thinks you might be a threat to national security they can check on what you have been doing on line over the last year.
Now we have the update to the Espionage Act. Just a draft, a proposal, nothing to worry about. The media is filled with this threat to journalists and whistle blowers and leakers (apart from government sanctioned leaks that serve to smear enemies of the government, I suspect they will still happen).
Everyone is talking about it, everyone is rightly worried, particularly given the fact that it can be used to suppress Brexit information. Everyone wants to know what is happening with Brexit, most people worry about or don't trust the government to do a deal that is good for the people and country rather than good for the politicians and their corporate mates and old school chums.
Oh also bear in mind that all the data collected under the Investigatory powers act, the archives that will be accessed if you are thought to be in violation of, say the old official secrets act, or the new espionage act. Think about that, leak data on Brexit negotiations for example and without so much as a please or thank you the security services will be tearing apart your digital life for the last year, becasue you leaked or obtained or gathered 'Sensitive' data.
So this is a very real threat, and distraction.
Yes, I said distraction.
It's very distracting, this reveal of a new and oppressive law. Everyone is talking about how it could be used to hide Brexit.
But it won't, if Police State May continues with her timeline she will invoke article 50 by the end of next month and then two years later the UK is out. This new espionage act won't be law anytime soon. In fact, call me paranoid, people do, but this reveal, now, looks to me like part of a process of slow cooking. Reveal it now then forget about it till, say the end of the summer when it comes out as a proposed law. Huge media and civil liberties opposition, front page news, everyone talking about it again.
Now it may get through, after all our PM is Police State May and the cabinet is stacked with her allies and people with a vested interest in having no scrutiny of Brexit. But I suspect it will fail this year and be forgotten again, till next year when people have become used to it, when it's old news, or even the year after that in 2019 when it will have become part of the background, oh the spy bill is back.
It's entirely possible, given that the official opposition, the Labour party, currently isn't a party and is more like a pack of rabid dogs more interested in fighting each other than being MPs that this will pass first time.
If it does you can bet good money there will be more bills, more laws and more reduction and loss of freedom as our glorious leader takes advantage of the opportunity to push through her police state.
But if it doesn't, then it will be drip fed to us, bought in again and again till we no longer worry about it, as the water is slowly bought to the boil. It worked with the snoopers charter, it is working with the steady loss of freedoms and rights in this country, after all the removal of the European Human rights act hardly makes the news these days now does it.
So anyway, cooking Frogs?
There is an old adage to do with cooking frogs that says if you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water it will realise the water is boiling and jump back out, but if you put it in a pot of cold water and slowly bring it to the boil it will not notice the water getting hotter and so it won't jump out.
The same applies to imposing tyranny.