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13 January 2015

Snooper’s Charter: why restrict our freedom as a response to an attack on free speech?

The irony of David Cameron's response to the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack.

By Richard Morris

With dull predictability, the big beasts of the Tory party, with one eye on the coming election, and the other on their positioning in the potential leadership election, have responded to last week’s assault on freedom of speech (and freedom to shop in a supermarket) by suggesting the best course of action is to . . . restrict some more of our freedoms, assault our civil liberties and reintroduce the Snooper’s Charter.

Because, of course, there’s no way that responding to a terrorist attack by giving up a bit more of our freedom looks like they’re winning – does it?

At least Boris, with his “I’m not particularly interested in this civil liberties stuff” quote in Trafalgar Square on Sunday was quite straightforward with his views, (though as Frankie Boyle pointed out, good job he chose to assemble in Trafalgar Square; if he’d tried it in Parliament Square he might have been arrested). Rather more insidious (because of its apparently reasonable tone), are David Cameron’s words that, “a future government will have to have a more comprehensive approach [to data collection] and I know absolutely that if I am Prime Minister I will put that approach in place.”

Never mind that no amount of general data collection would have stopped the Paris attacks, nor the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich, nor the Boston bomber, Tamerlan Tsnarnaev. In each of these cases, the perpetrators were already known to the authorities, and a law requiring the tracking and collection of every internet page visit and electronic communication we all make would have made no difference (plus it also appears that the security services are capable of accessing much of this data already). It seems it’s more important to be doing something – no matter that it’s ineffective.

As Nick Clegg will say today:

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We have every right to invade the privacy of terrorists and those we think want to do us harm, but we should not equate that with invading the privacy of every single person in the UK. They are not the same thing.

Personally, I wouldn’t publish the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo – as Adam Hills put it on Channel Four’s The Last Leg:

I’ll tell you why I don’t want to show any (cartoons). It’s not because I’m afraid of violent reprisals. It’s because from what I understand, it’s offensive to someone else’s religion . . . but by crikey, I’ll defend someone else’s right to do it.

And it’s in that spirit of defending our right to offend that I say to both the Mayor of London and the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – you can stick your Snooper’s Charter up your arse.