You have to give him some credit. The soul of the prison warder who inhabits the public school boy is not always easy to contain. Unrestrained, and lacking sound judgment, he is bound to spring out, however democratic, or liberal, a system can be. Prime Minister David Cameron, on the issue of jamming through bills connected with increased surveillance powers, has just about gotten what he wants. The rule in his playbook here: call anything you don’t want looked at a matter of emergency.
For Cameron, “No government introduces fast track legislation lightly. But the consequences of not acting are grave.” No evidence is required; none is shown. What is important is the stress on terrorism, sustained by that good old giddying drug called fear. “As events in Iraq and Syria demonstrate, now is not the time to be scaling back on our ability to keep our people safe.” All that matters is that the government claims that not acting, even if it doesn’t quite know what it is acting on, will be terrible than doing nothing to begin with.
Even as the Germans were celebrating their footballing triumph in Brazil, the frontlines of the UK papers featured Edward Snowden’s unchanging face, and the efforts of the Cameron government to push through its emergency surveillance bill. Since the European Court of Justice made short work of the EU data retention directive, governments have been scrambling to respond. The UK reaction has been less than conciliatory to the privacy advocates, always suspicious about the very idea that retaining data was somehow illegal.
The legislative reaction was something of a race, lasting three days. Vital to the passage of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers bill, known as Drip, was dizzying speed — pushed through the Commons on Tuesday, then passed within a vote after a second reading in the House of Lords. Thursday saw some tidying up, but when the rooms were ordered, it was clear that the surveillance team had won.