UK / Europe — 03 June 2013
The Snoopers Charter and Exploiting Woolwich

Adnan Khan

On the 22nd of May 2013, a serving British soldier was targeted by two youths, who proceeded to kill the man with a machete and a butcher’s knife, in Woolwich, South East London. This relatively unremarkable district of the London metropolis was transformed into the hub of media activity for numerous days after the shocking act.

This was almost immediately labelled a terrorist attack and all relevant bodies, including the COBRA Committee, held emergency gatherings to discuss and assess the situation. Inevitably discussions within government and media focused on why it occurred and how to prevent such actions in the future. Sadly, rather than discussing the anger and frustration created by British foreign policy, the discussion was been diverted to resurrecting failed strategies like PREVENT or toughening police powers with the proposed introduction of the Draft Communications Data Bill.

This article will focus upon this proposed draft bill and the maneuvering taking place to capitalise on the shock and outrage in the light of the Woolwich murder. Clearly there is an agenda deployed by the political establishment to misuse people’s grief to enforce draconian legislation.

In 2008, the Labour government of Gordon Brown floated the plans of an Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP), allowing greater access to communications of the populace. In brief, plans were made to collect data on all phone calls, emails, chat room discussions and web-browsing of individuals as part of the IMP. The proposals would then be presented as part of the Communications Data Bill. Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat Home affairs spokesman at the time said: “The government’s Orwellian plans for a vast database of our private communications are deeply worrying.” He was not alone in his concerns. The Conservative opposition allied itself with the Liberal Democrats in voicing great concern to the creation, eventually, of a central database of communications data, much like the NSA Call Database in the USA. This idea was rejected by Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary holding office at the time. Instead, she proposed that all communications providers store such data within their own back-up systems, making it available to the authorities when required. In effect, these proposals fulfilled the aims of the IMP, at a lower cost to the Chancery.

However, the Conservatives ascent to power in 2010 curtailed a lot of these measures, theoretically. For example, they announced that they would stop the storing of email and Internet records without ‘good reason’. Nevertheless, the proposals of the IMP were not reversed in their entirety. Rather the new coalition government decided to review communications data control through the mechanism of the Communications Capabilities Development Programme.

Evidencing the open secret that all governments sing from the same hymn sheet, the Conservatives ‘re-constructed’ the plans through a variety of propositions. The Queen’s speech, used as a platform to detail the government’s plans and strategies for the forthcoming year, made reference to the government’s intentions in this regard. She announced that the Executive wanted to “maintain capability” for the law enforcement agencies to have access to private communications traffic. This proposal was presented by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, as the Draft Communications Data Bill. She expressed hope that, after deliberation and debate, the act would become part of the law in 2014.

The propositions contained within this bill represent the stark epitome of a developing police state. The proposals would require a storing of each user’s web history, webmail access, mobile phone contacts data, online gaming records, social media usage and voice calls data. This would be in addition to the telephone contacts and email data already required to be stored. Such information would be required for access for up to 12 months. An already depleted treasury would be expected to provide up to £1.4 bn per year for such activities to be conducted, a considerable burden.

The proposals faced stern opposition from the Tory government’s coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats. In light of Nick Clegg’s opposition, the draft bill was referred to a Joint Committee to ponder and amend, making it acceptable to the masses. This was to be a difficult undertaking as 71 percent of those surveyed in a YouGov poll believed that such data would not remain secure. Further, many Internet giants including Wikipedia have already considered proposals to circumnavigate such legislation, should it become statute.

What does all of the above have to do with the killing of Lee Rigby though?

The proposed Communications Bill was dropped following a split in the coalition government. In the aftermath of the attack in South East London last week, former Conservative leader Michael Howard suggested that a Labour-Conservative pact could save the legislation from death and push through the controversial law. He suggested that David Cameron had to act in the “national interest”, following the Woolwich murder. The Shadow Home Secretary, Sadiq Khan, expressed a willingness to review the proposals of such communications legislation. Two former Labour Home Secretaries, Alan Johnson and John Reid, have also reared their political heads and placed their intellectual weight behind the proposals. Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition, has provided vital support for the proposals, suggesting that Labour would support any legislation deemed necessary, should David Cameron propose the same.

The outpouring of public anger, grief, fear and resentment is being manipulated by the political class once more. Sadly, this is a wholly expected phenomena. Those established within the realms of power have always sought calculated interests from moments of adversity and high emotion. The aftermath of the September 11 attacks provides a clear example of this attitude, as do the 7/7 bombings, domestically. The draconian statutes introduced within Britain included such abhorrence as the Terrorism Act and the Extradition Act.

The current Communications Bill is an extension of such incursions into population privacy. The proposed legislation would allow for a ‘Big Brother’ styled society, a hallmark of the most repressive and morally suspect regimes in the world. In line with this, the proposed legislation has been mockingly dubbed the ‘Snooper’s Charter’. A society where one does not feel secure when discussing or communicating with others, wondering who may be ‘snooping’ on the conversation, is not a healthy place of existence. It inevitably will breach the right for ‘a private and family life’. It is hypocritical, and ironic to the umpteenth degree, that those who vilify the despots of the world for their iron grip on their societies are, consciously or otherwise, attempting to replicate the same here in Britain.

One cannot possibly throw out superlatives in promoting the ‘virtues’ of freedom of speech, so often presented as vital to the lifeblood of a society, whilst showing such blatant disdain and disregard for it. Indeed there are discussions to be had as to whether such freedoms can ever exist or are virtuous without some constraint. However, how does one posit to the public that they are free in their expression, even those that go against the basis of society, but continue to monitor all their communications? It’s an irreconcilable dichotomy.

Having detailed the above, it makes the government’s devious tone, within the current rhetoric, even more pronounced. There exists an assertion that, had the appropriate measures been in place to monitor the communication chain between the alleged offenders, the law enforcement authorities would have been in a better position to intercept and prevent the murder of Drummer Rigby. The notion is presented, and will be pushed with greater force, that this signifies the urgent necessity to monitor the online and telephone communications of individuals. One may be tempted to believe the rhetoric at first sight but could the murder have been prevented had the Communications Bill been in force? Is the government really sincere in its assertion? Not entirely. In fact, the authorities were well-acquainted with the suspects and the bill would have added no value to the law enforcement agencies’ prevention of the murder.

Michael Adebolajo, one of the suspects of the Woolwich murder, was very well-known to the authorities. BBC reports quoted Kenyan officials outlining that they had arrested Mr Adebolajo in 2010, on suspicion of being involved in alleged terrorist activities and for his alleged ties to Al-Shabbab in Somalia. The British Consulate had intervened and ensured his release from a Kenyan prison. Whatever, the merits of his arrest by the Kenyans, the British authorities were well aware of the individual and his suspected links to so-called terrorism.

Mr Adebolajo continued to attend many Islamic marches and rallies, often appearing in videos and photos directly behind one prominent Muslim figure during such events. In light of the fact that this figure and his assocaited group have been banned and targeted by the media repeatedly, it seems unfathomable that the security services did not have access to or review such footage.

Finally, and most remarkably, Mr Adebolajo was arrested approximately two months ago, on suspicion of terrorism-related activities. He was released after a short review, the authorities realising that they had arrested a man without evidence of a crime, an oft-repeated phenomenon.

Once viewed through the prism of the above information, it becomes clear that the Communications Bill would not have prevented Mr Adebolajo from committing his murder. In fact the police force already hold the power, upon the attainment of a warrant from the judiciary, to wiretap and monitor the communications of a suspect.

Therefore the draconian measures are a deliberate step towards a greater reproach into the lives of the individuals and, as displayed in the preceding paragraphs, the grief of the British people will be used as a tool to carve out political interests while distracting the public from Britain’s foreign policy that has, more than anything else, been the main cause behind anger that leads to violent reactions. Britain, with the idea of a ‘snooper’s charter’ prominent in the political discourse, is treading a dangerous path. It’s ambitions seem likely to push the country on a route towards an authoritarian police state. The bill aims to target any individual speaking or communicating in a manner that is not in line with the ideas of the power brokers.

It should be noted that under Islam and the Caliphate (Khilafah) such pervasive and intrusive powers would be strictly forbidden. Islam prohibits the monitoring, as proposed in this bill, of the individual thus preserving their private and family life away from the prying eyes of the state.

The Prophet Muhammad (saw) stated, “And do not spy and do not probe (into others affairs)” Bukhari

The prohibition is not only of an individual nature but also forbids governments from engaging in the spying on individuals’ affairs. Therefore Islam prohibits such draconian legislation, where citizens’ views are monitored by the state. As already stated, this becomes one of the defining features of a police state.

To conclude, the manner in which this draft bill is being presented, in the aftermath of the Woolwich killing, paints a picture that with this legislation police would have had the powers to stop the killing of Drummer Rigby. However as detailed in the preceding discourse this, almost certainly, wouldn’t have been the case. Rather, not only has this been a convenient distraction from any debate over British foreign policy as a source of anger and frustration, it also provides extensive powers to the police and state to monitor its citizens. This should be of great concern to every rational mind.


Adnan Khan completed his Bar studies in 2011 and currently works within the legal field.

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