July 13, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
Not being a fan of censorship of any form, my thoughts when I heard about the fast-tracking of the Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill (details of this are at the bottom of this blog *) through Parliament on Thursday went to Martin Niemoller’s famous poem, written back in the 1940s as an anti-Nazi warning, but since then used in many circumstances. I realise that some will say that “if you are doing nothing wrong there is nothing to worry about”, but it all depends on who judges what is the difference between ‘wrong’ and ‘right’.
If you don’t know it then click here to read it, but Niemoller’s poem starts with “First they came for the communists and I did not speak out because I was not a communist”. The text proceeds then to run though a list of the he minorities that were being targeted by Hitler – including trade unionists, Jews and many others. It ends with the line “Then they came for me. And there’re was no-one left to speak for me.” It is often misquoted, deliberately, because the actual text isn’t important, the sentiments of It are far more important.
Those sentiments are that those who seek to remove freedoms will remove them first from the groups in society who have no friends. Those early casualties will tend to have pariah-status….so they might be the peodophiles, terrorists, Islamic fundamentalists to start with, then moving on to drug dealers trolls, hate speakers, Holocaust-deniers, racists, gay-porn addicts, straight-porn addicts, celebrity gossipmongers, slanderers and online gamblers…we could go on. Each time internet freedom is encroached upon in minor incursions, such as is happening with the Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill, with the plea of “it’s an emergency” used to justify it, we are getting closer and closer to you and me.
Are we really going to have to wait until an appalling miscarriage of justice happens before we wake up to this threat? There are many countries in the world such as Saudi Arabia, Cuba and China, who are extremely successful in controlling most of what their citizens can see or do on the internet. This all starts with surveillance, which is what the Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill being rushed through Parliament is about. It is claimed that all it does is reinforce the status quo against an adverse European ruling. The Sun seemed to justify this hurry in an editorial by saying that “Fanatics intent on our destruction will not put their plans on hold while we talk.” Thus are new powers nodded through that could end up curtailing all our freedoms, using a reference to unspecified evildoers.
I go back to the question at the start of this blog. Who are those evildoers? In China they are anyone who disagrees with the government’s policies. We should bear that in mind if we are planning not to speak up now.
* The legislation is primarily aimed at the companies that provide us with telephone and internet connections. It outlines their legal obligation to retain “communications data” on their customers. This metadata includes things like logs of when calls were made, what numbers were dialled, and other information that can be used, the government says, in investigations. It does not include the content of the communications. The vast majority of people will only have data collected on things such as the time a call is made and the number that was called – not the actual contents of that communication. But the emergency law does go further – the law reinforces the ability of authorities to carry out what is known as a “legal intercept”. This is when a target is identified for additional monitoring – including listening in to phone calls and other communications.