The government has this week passed into law the infamous “snoopers charter” (The Investigatory Powers Bill). Associated Press reported:
“After months of wrangling, Parliament has passed a contentious new snooping law that gives authorities — from police and spies to food regulators, fire officials and tax inspectors — powers to look at the internet browsing records of everyone in the country”.
The controversial new law requires that Internet service and telecom companies keep records of all users’ web activity for a year, creating databases of personal information that could be vulnerable to leaks and hackers. Civil liberties groups say the law establishes mass surveillance of British citizens, following innocent internet users from their offices to their homes and all places in-between. The new law also makes official — and legal — British spies’ ability to hack into devices and harvest vast amounts of bulk online data, much of it from outside the UK. In doing so, it both acknowledges and shows the extent of the secretive mass-spying schemes exposed by Edward Snowden.
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the World Wide Web, tweeted news of the law’s passage with the words: “Dark, dark days”.
Officials won’t need a warrant to access the data, and the list of bodies that can access all data (48 in total) includes not just the police and intelligence services, but government departments, and revenue and customs officials. Any behavior deemed suspicious, disliked by the prevailing ruling authorities or simply an opportunity to clamp down on tax avoidance (which is not illegal) will lead to unlimited access to what and when any person accesses the internet.
Snowden revealed that the NSA (in the US) and GCHQ (UK), via programmes Prism and Tempora, systematically (and illegally) intercepted and stored colossal volumes of communications data sent/received by US and UK citizens. The new act in the UK puts this invasion of privacy onto a “legal” basis.
We have the following points.
- Mass surveillance of the population betrays the mutual trust required in any society between the ruling authorities and all citizens. Growing distrust of the elites that control the political parties has recently led to protest votes including Brexit. Rather than try to rebuild trust it is being further eroded.
- The notion that a liberal democracy protects openness and transparency is false. Such draconian legislation is more akin to banana republic autocracies or Soviet era police states. Spying and torture (rendition) have also been used bizarrely to defend “freedom” the measures are not proportionate to what they are attempting to achieve.
- Increasing surveillance (Britain has more CCTV per head of population than any other country) is brought under the pretext of essential security, particularly in the “war on terror”. Yet incidences of terror attacks are tiny compared to loss of life from murder, and other criminal activities for which surveillance of the whole population is not touted as essential.
- Opening such information so widely will lead to exploitation for monetary purposes for example HM Customs & Revenue have no reason for access other than to target citizens that visit tax planning or information sites which are legal, but disliked according to constant media and political criticisms.
- Guilt by association. All notions of enquiry, study or research including that needed to refute or debate alternative ideas is severely stifled in such an environment. The websites you visit, the messages you have received, regardless of whether you endorse or agree with the contents can and will be used against you. Non violent political activism including Islamic, Environmental, or anti-Capitalist are only some of the thoughts which are targeted in this climate.
The “muscular liberals” continue to erode their principles. Free speech, the right of political association and to account the established order for example over their murderous foreign policies are further reigned back. The right to study, to contemplate, to debate ideas fully across the political and religious spectrum easily shunned.
By contrast Allah (swt) prohibited spying on each other:
وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا وَلَا يَغْتَب بَّعْضُكُم بَعْضًا
“And do not spy or backbite one another” [TMQ 49:12]
In Islam there is no conflict between the competing interests of security and money raising services with individual rights including privacy. Islam has defined fixed laws for the society and state and is not subject to bargaining by the strongest faction – whereas in capitalism rights can be easily taken way, this creates instability in society. The UK lawmakers are also well aware that they are giving dictators around the world the license to do what they want.
In comparison key Islamic judicial principles include:
1 – All are innocent until proven guilty
2 – Specific strong standards for evidence are required – thereby reducing the incidence of miscarriages of justice
3 – All spying on citizens regardless of their beliefs (or those with none) is expressly forbidden.
Islam’s fixed standard set by the Creator means a principle means a principle, not something to be discarded when it suits one government or another. Government, institutional or individual spying or accumulation of information without express permission is a crime. The British government has now made it a crime for internet companies not to spy on everyone.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ لِلَّهِ شُهَدَاءَ بِالْقِسْطِ ۖ وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَىٰ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا ۚ اعْدِلُوا هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do”. [TMQ – 5:8]