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Snooper Charter is illegal while Britain is still in EU

On the 21st of December 2016, European Union's Court of Justice has ruled that telecom providers cannot be forced to store personal data of its users, the access to such data can only be given to the law enforcement agencies following a serious crime and public bodies cannot authorise its own access to these data. This ruling has effectively rendered the key parts of Britain's Investigative Powers Act, commonly known as Snoopers Charter, illegal.

This is a good news to anyone to whom privacy of the individuals matter. Now, British government will have no choice but to either amend Investigative Powers Act by removing all of the most intrusive elements from it and improving cross-agency accountability. Alternatively, they will have to delay implementation of the act until Britain is fully out of the EU, which is not going to happen for several years.

People have voted to leave the EU for various reasons. A sizable proportion of those who voted for Brexit did so because they are incapable of putting their lives in order and they are envious of East Europeans, many of whom are capable of successfully navigating Britain's job market or its business environment shortly after arriving into the UK. However, there were also those were concerned with the EU becoming increasingly Orwellian. Ironically, these are the people who vigorously opposed Investigative Powers Act, which can only be stopped by the institution that they voted against.

Although many institutions within the EU are perceived to be somewhat Orwellian in certain areas, this court ruling has clarified that in other areas EU is very far from being Orwellian. Many libertarian-minded people are concerned about ever-increasing censorship of media within the EU, which they amount to thought policing, as described in 1984. And, to some extent, they are right. There are many countries within the EU with strict "Hate Speech" laws where a harmless social media post can put you in prison, even if it is factually correct and isn't intended as an insult. Also, influential people within the EU apparatus do occasionally make appeals to increase censorship. For example, Christian Ahlund, the head of The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, has ordered the press, when reporting on terrorist acts, not to say that perpetrators were Muslims. However, the important points that should be noted that many of the censorship laws are country-specific rather than EU-wide and the types of orders that people like Christian Ahlund make are generally unenforceable. So, although EU's attitude towards censorship is largely a grey area, the institution has just clarified its position on the surveillance of its citizens and its definitely not authoritarian.

The key reason why EU's court would not approve practices that violate privacy is because some of its most influential members of the block have actually experienced authoritarianism and a real Big Brother state, something that they absolutely don't want to return to. This is why Germany, which is often criticised for its draconian "Hate Speech" laws and blocking of Youtube channels that host conservative political videos, has very strict laws protecting personal privacy. The key reason for this is because, while Germany was split into democratic East Germany and authoritarian communist East Germany, the latter had Stasi secret police and total surveillance of all aspects of personal lives of its citizens. There was secret surveillance equipment installed in every flat and ordinary citizens were encouraged to be "snitches". This is the reason why Germany is one of few Western countries that doesn't have any CCTV installed in public places.

On the other hand, excessively strict personal privacy protection laws do backfire. Lack of CCTV on busy Berlin streets was one of the main reasons why the perpetrator of Islamist terrorist truck attack at Christmas market was able to escape to Italy. Also, if he wouldn't have committed a schoolboy error of leaving his personal identity documents and fingerprints behind, he would probably be able to escape unidentified and unpunished.

In summary, although there are many things about the EU that are bad, authoritarianism is not one of them. Although EU's view on free speech remains a grey area, its view on protection of personal privacy has been clarified without a shadow of doubt and yes, EU laws do protect your privacy. As EU court was able to render the most controversial and intrusive parts of Snoopers Charter illegal, it is actually leaving the EU that may make Britain more Big Brother-like, not staying within it.

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Posted on 26 Dec 2016

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