I guess we can blame Edward Snowden. Since he revealed the extent of US and UK state surveillance Governments have been under pressure to disclose the activities of their spies. They also have felt the need to update the legislation governing them. The proposed Investigatory Powers Bill strikes a balance between this disclosure whilst giving security services the authority they need to deal with terrorists.
What is concerning is the plan to give officials the ability to track citizens’ browsing history going back a full 12 months. This offers a comprehensive insight into an individual’s life. But what’s worse is that the Bill allows police access to such data without any judicial or ministerial warrant.
Surveillance: the presumption of innocence
For me this Government lead mass surveillance programme threatens the fundamental principles of liberty. This is more important that concerns people have about revealing personal details. No citizen should be subject to seizures or searches without probable cause. The proposed law allows indiscriminate data searches from large swathes of the population. Nor is intrusion itself the whole issue. The retention of vast volumes of sensitive information is a recipe for disaster. Not a week passes without the hacking of some so-called secure data store, whether it is the NHS, TalkTalk or an adultery website.
So how best to approach this stoically? Well, this is only a draft Bill and we can fight to ensure it is amended. But it’s difficult to influence this Bill unless you are prepared to invest a large amount of time and effort. So one way of looking at this is that it is beyond your control and accept it for what it is.
The Stoics suggested that objects of pursuit which were themselves neither good nor bad occupied a neutral ethical territory. These were denominated adiaphora and privacy falls into this class. This distinction amounted practically to an exclusion of the adiaphora from the field of morals.
By adopting this approach it allows you to take measures to protect your identity as long as it’s done virtuously. If there are breaches then accept that it’s of your own doing in not implementing all suitable activities. Defer your scorn for the agencies who are conducting the surveillance.
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