Write to your MP about the investigatory powers bill

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You may or may not know about the Investigatory Powers Bill that is currently up for Royal Assent. The bill not only permits the mass mining of data, but enforces all UK internet providers to retain a record of every site visited by their customers. This goes much further than previous measures permitting the viewing of emails and website history with reasonable grounds for investigation. The internet history of every UK internet customer will be kept on file and can be accessed by a long and wideranging group of departments and organisations that simply have no business seeing such things (see here for a list of who will be permitted access to your data).

As a result, I have written to my MP outlining my concerns about the bill. I publish my letter below:

Dear Mr McMahon,

I am writing to express my alarm at the recent Investigatory Powers Bill that will force internet providers to retain a record of sites visited by their customers. I am especially concerned at the range of departments and organisations who are being permitted access to this mass data collection with little to no credible reasons given for why such should be permitted.

It was heartening to see the Labour leader voting against the measure but highly disappointing that the main objection was not from the Labour Party (and affiliates) en masse but from the SNP and Lib Dems.

I am highly troubled by the measure not only as a private citizen but as a local church leader with a significant number of asylum seekers within my congregation. Let me be as explicit as I can, these measures mirror with alarming precision the very measures implemented by those countries many of our communicants have been forced to flee. It is a well known fact that these are the kind of measures that not only tend to lead to, but are a specific mark of, totalitarian regimes. The many Iranians in our congregation can attest to it, as can some of those we support who are currently working in such countries.

These measures are indeed concerning in their own right, interfering as they do with a basic right to privacy. However, they are all the more pernicious when they are weighed against the increasing governmental interference in what we may freely say and, by extension, what passes as permissible thought. Coupled with the increasingly wide definition of ‘hate speech’, the government’s plans to OfSTED out of school religious settings (including Sunday Schools and holiday camps) and high profile cases such as that concerning Ashers Bakery, this feels like one further step on the road to an ever-real Orwellian dystopia. For, alongside what we are increasingly not permitted to say (or think) we are now going to be monitored to presumably make sure we don’t say or think the wrong things!

If this sounds unnecessarily alarmist, despite successive government’s promising that only terrorists need be concerned, I would point to the fact that numerous anti-terror laws and other civil laws have repeatedly been used to arrest peaceful street preachers, to silence political critics and demonstrators as well as being brought to boot in other arenas to stop those with ‘the wrong views’ adopting children or retaining certain jobs. Though I have no doubt these powers have, at times, been used against those who would commit terrorist activities, the regularity and consistency with which they have been used against those who pose no such threat give me absolutely no confidence these latest measures will not do the same. In fact, in this case, the investigatory powers bill insists our data must be kept on file, subjecting the entirety of the UK’s internet customers – which is the vast majority of the UK population – to measures intended to stop crime that the overwhelming majority will never be involved in nor even under suspicion for. This simply should not stand in a liberal democracy such as ours. It is evidence collection by proxy prior not only to being charged, or arrested, but prior to suspicion itself.

I would ask that you do all within your power to stand against this and any future such measures.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Kneale

Minister, Oldham Bethel Church