UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Who will be watching you or listening in?

Government plans to allow security service officials at GCHQ to scrutinize who is talking to whom and exactly when the conversations are taking place on email or social media should worry all labour movement activists: http://www.guardian.co.uk/

The usual excuses of "terrorism" and "national security" have been trotted out but as the Guardian former security correspondent Richard Norton Taylor noted in the paper as far back as 2002, the government definition of terrorism and national security are and traditionally have been extremely broad, and they have enormous discretion on how they are used.

That was even before the Terrorism Act of 2006, identified by the UN as producing a chilling effect on freedom of information and interfering with human rights:

Even before the plans are before Parliament, the Liberal Democrats set up as the party of "liberty" are getting their excuses in early as they talk of an "independent board" to "monitor".

Security monitoring of the Left has a history going back before the Cold War but its echoes continued to reverberate throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. In the 1980’s there were the Spycatcher revelations revealing the intimate security service interest in the Wilson Government - allegations that were themselves repressed by the security services.

In 1985 Cathy Massiter testified about phone tapping activities used by MI5 against CND and NCCL (now Liberty), Anti Apartheid and also against individual trade unionists. One of the most detailed examinations of state activity against trade unions came in Seumas Milne’s seminal book "The Enemy Within". Milne took the title from Thatcher’s own quote about the miners - the NUM being the "enemy within". Milne catalogued phone tapping, the involvement of GCHQ listening station, the bugging of buildings (including North Sea Fish Restaurant close to Mabledon Place, beloved of generations of Nalgo and UNISON activists while in London), and the use of double agents, including the now infamous Roger Windsor NUM officer and state spy. In 2002, the BBC series "True Spies" showed that the same techniques continued .

The activities of the Economic League are now history but their use of anti trade union data bases to exclude trade unionists from employment for fees from unscrupulous employers kept generations of building and engineering workers out of work. Incidentally their activities were known among trade unionists for years but their existence denied .The demise of the Economic League however was the birth of the “Consulting Association”, carrying out the same activities for the same dishonest and immoral organisations.

Only recently evidence has emerged about the involvement of the state security forces and the police in the preparation of these extraordinary files. The Information Commissioner revealed that within their records, information was held that could only have come from those sources – the police or MI5. Look forward to further revelations as future cases claiming compensation against them come to the courts in the next few months .

So expect that more powers to snoop will only lead to more snooping, and that more of that snooping will be directed toward "the enemy within". Who wants to be writing an email while all the time thinking, “Who will be watching? Who will be reading this?”

In the late 1980’s the then head of the Civil Service, Sir Robert Armstrong defended security force activity against the left by stating that "the Communist Party is still regarded in the United Kingdom as an organisation subversive of UK democracy". The establishment decides who its enemies are and its record of disregarding the democratic rights of socialists and trade unionists is not one that it can be proud of. The right to free communication and free association should be fundamental .

A fight against this bill cannot be left to lawyers and human rights activists. It is our fight.