At today’s Conservative Party conference home secretary Theresa May will outline new powers, called Extremist Disruption Orders, to be granted which will make it easier to prosecute people deemed to be inciting hatred or promoting the overthrow of democracy. These new orders will enable the government to prevent individuals from associating with other named individuals, speaking at public meetings, using social media or broadcasting. In short the democratic rights of those deemed to be opposing democracy will be rescinded. It is often telling of the lack of persuasive abilities of those in power when they need to resort to restricting the voices of others rather than beating them in an argument.
I assume that the announcement of these new powers is designed to appeal to the right of the Conservative party, and those voters towards the right (as is Chancellor George Osborne’s recent announcement of the freezing of benefit payments). But it is interesting that it is often those who are most suspicious of an interventionist “nanny state” that are the most keen to see the restriction of their democratic rights. I suppose there is an assumption that it will only be the rights of others that are affected.
Recent history, however, provides little evidence that this will be the case. For instance, it was the post 9/11 US “Patriot Act” which, by making it easier to spy on online interactions, made possible the mass surveillance we saw in the NSA scandal. Although this was an act which was passed in the USA it had an impact on people all over the world because most of the companies who collaborated with the American government (Google, Facebook, etc) are registered there so subject to their laws thus granting the American government a kind of “super jurisdiction”.
These kinds of rights seem to be easily taken away but difficult to regain. It is also another example of the “future oriented” approach to security which restricts the rights of individuals now in order to prevent future actions. In this approach analytics are used to predict future behaviour and people are prosecuted, and in some cases assassinated, on the basis of their potential future behaviour. I have previously blogged about this predictive approach to security and some of its potential consequences. Minority Report seems ever more prescient.