It could only happen in Britain. In the US, by contrast, a so-called Freedom Act (though it is far from that) has just been passed. It will at least partially curb the power of government to collect bulk data on the lives of its citizens. The Cameron government however is doing the opposite and is determined this time to push through the snoopers’ charter which it failed to get in the last Parliament and which MI5/GCHQ have been aching to get on the statute book ever since the Twin Towers of 2001. This would not only give ever greater powers of mass surveillance to the police and secret services, it is also intended to prohibit server encryption which makes surveillance more difficult. This is a complete contradiction of the Snowden revelations. These exposed industrial-scale eavesdropping by State bureaucracies which had been proceeding secretly and without a shred of accountability ever since 2006, and without Snowden would probably have been proceeding unhindered to this very day.
The difference between the US and the UK in response to these revelations of an out-of-control Big Brother has been stark. Obama set up a commission, Congress held hearings, and the director of US national intelligence admitted the gist of Snowden’s charges. Some officials resigned, no less than 30 bills were put forward to regulate the National Security Agency, and now the Freedom Act has been passed. In Britain, by contrast, the home Secretary and parliament vilified Snowden’s ‘treachery’, the supposed parliamentary watchdog (the utterly ineffective Intelligence and Security Committee) never barked and never uncovered or condemned the security services’ scope or methods, and the Sheinwald report which recommended bringing together US and UK surveillance regimes because electronic data now operates trans-border, was shelved, with a refusal even to publish it.
To the secret services and this government personal privacy is nowhere. The only issue that counts is the amorphous concept of national security and behind that the expansion of their own power. But for the last 30 years or more there has been no such existential threat to Britain, though efforts to invent one were focused on the Bush/Blair ‘war on terror’. Nor is there any evidence that data banks directly improve national security. Nearly all terrorist outrages, including most recently the Boston marathon bombing and the murder of Lee Rigby, were committed by persons already known to the police.
Equally worrying is the fact that data already being harvested by the State and private corporations is insecure and misused. It has been discovered that defence lawyers’ and journalists’ contacts are being bugged, that the HMRC loses files, that NHS medical records are sold off to drug firms, and that the police pass material on controversial figures to the media. The US is a relatively open and transparent society, Britain is still a deeply secretive society beholden to State power.