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Big Browser and democracy – two sides of the same coin

The Council of the European Union is pushing to introduce measures that would force internet service providers and phone companies to keep records of all communications for many years. The Internet bill is supposed to aim at protecting the confidentiality of electronic communication to boost confidence in e-commerce. But it also contains provisions to allow police access to phone, fax and email records, something that governments view as a useful tool to fight crime and terrorism in the wake of the 11 September attacks in the United States.The information recorded and archived would consists of URLs of web pages visited, news groups and numbers dialled. It would then be made available for the police and other security agencies in gathering criminal intelligence.

Despite strong opposition from civil liberty groups and the industry, the bill is likely to include the data retention rules because of support from the European Socialist Party and the European People’s Party, the assembly’s main political groups. Also, documents leaked to civil liberties groups, reveal that powerful lobbying is taking place on behalf of power-grabbing thugs law enforcement agencies to try to destroy existing data protection and privacy laws in member states.

“These proposals would allow fishing expeditions into the only activity, browsing habits, and internet associations of every citizen in the EU for up to seven years. They could do this without any warrant or court order.”

Civil liberties groups such as Statewatch and the Foundation for Information Policy Research warn that this would give police and other security forces the powers normally expected of an oppressive regime:

“Authoritarian and totalitarian states would be condemned for violating human rights and civil liberties if they initiated such practices. The fact that it is being proposed in the ‘democratic’ EU does not make it any less authoritarian.”

This is all rather standard and predictable given what we know about the EU and its practices. However, there is a rather worrying twist to the story. Instead of the usual heavy-handed, freedom-quashing bill drafting by the EU, the latest version of the bill has been made more oppressive at the request of none other than the good HM Government! Originally, the EU Parliament had drafted the law to limit access to electronic data by public authorities to the strict minimum. But this move was criticised by member states, notably Britain, which wanted greater power to monitor the Internet. US officials also criticised the bill, fearing that the request to erase data would hinder prosecution of criminals. Fearing that this legislative clash would ultimately kill the bill, the two biggest parliamentary groups have now aligned themselves with the member states.

What is going on here?!

Well, nothing much, actually, just the usual state stuff. The fact that the system of government in the member states is democratic does nothing to stop them from abusing an undemocratic institution such as the EU. In fact, they are being democratic, using the powers of the EU to reduce the liberties of their citizens, just like the majority of their citizens use domestic institutions to do the same to individuals.

So predictably, for me, democracy – the rule of the majority – has negative connotations as it has for Perry de Havilland. Democracy is far from the political and social panacea it is made out to be. It does not bring about the kind of fluffy bunny utopia socialists would like us believe in. Although the un-democratic EU together with its democratic member states are doing their best to have the bunnies stuffed… And just like Mr Franklin, I do want to see the bunny (or the lamb) well armed.

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