BY NIGEL TATE: POLITICAL COLUMNIST
The term “Big Brother” was coined by George Orwell to demonstrate the government’s increased use of surveillance. As a society we love to observe people’s actions, as depicted in the hit Hollywood movie The Truman Show and reality television shows, such as Big Brother. These examples are constructed for our entertainment but illustrate a real-life strategy conducted daily by the government. Nevertheless, this is no new concept as this idea can be traced back to Hobbes’ Leviathan, which briefly mentions that people must sacrifice some of their freedom for protection.
The Conservative government passed the Investigatory Powers Act (2016), nicknamed the Snooper’s Charter, allowing any intelligence officer or the police to keep an eye on the public’s internet activity. This, along with London being labelled as “the second most watched city in the world”, brings to light the notion that the public are constantly being tracked by the government. Despite this, London is still within the top 20 European cities for crime rates. Therefore, one must question whether the surge in CCTV cameras are really the solution to tackle London’s high criminal activity?
However, some may argue that this level of supervision is justified. From 2017 to 2019, the UK has faced a series of terror attacks, such as those seen in Westminster (2017) and on London Bridge (2019). Social media can act as a recruiting system for terror groups. Therefore, being able to monitor potential suspects through this may be the easiest way to gain information and intervene, if necessary.
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Paradoxically, we can see how quickly the government acts in order to defend their nation when the tables have turned. The British government’s recent banning of Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network, used by companies such as BT and Vodafone, is an example of this. Huawei, a Chinese network, has been classed as a security risk as it could potentially control large proportions of the UK’s mobile network, giving it the facilities to access customer data. Blocking an overseas company from accessing our personal information in such a forceful way raises the question as to whether the UK government itself, should have this sort of invasive access?
There’s a fine line between national security and individual privacy
Infringement on human rights has also proven to be an issue in this debate. Human rights advocacy group, Liberty, have tried to appeal the Investigatory Powers Act (2016). They claimed that this act did not have any safeguards to prevent the government from storing private material, such as people’s passwords and usernames. Liberty won the initial case in 2018 but lost a subsequent court battle in 2019, due to the government’s appeal. The British High Court ruled in favour of the government, concluding that there was a fine line drawn between national security and individual privacy.
Moving forward, the perception that we are all being spied on may alter people’s actions. If society is aware of constant monitoring of internet activity, the Hawthorne effect may set in, resulting in the prevention of deviant behaviour through the fear of being caught. However, as members of a democratic country we are said to be ‘free’, but to what extent is this true? It is naïve to believe that if everyone were given absolute freedom, they would entirely adhere to the laws of any given society. This has been used to put forward the excuse that the government’s expansion of surveillance is designed to protect the nation from possible threats, promote lawful behaviour and keep society in check.