BEHIND YOUR BACK SPECIAL: connecting narrow, specialist news to broader cultural threats

Why the Investigatory Powers Bill and Joint Enterprise Laws alone could make slaves of us all by 2020

There’s an excellent post at the Forbes site today by Emma Woollacott. For those who thought perhaps criticisms of the UK Government’s Investigatory Powers Bill might be the sole province of Jon Pilger and Jihadi John, Ms Woollacott’s piece is exemplary in its accessible deconstruction of the proposed legislation.

She writes about legal and regulatory impacts upon internet freedoms for, variously, The Times, Daily Telegraph and Financial Times, as well as BBC radio and numerous technology titles. This is her assessment of the proposed legislation being championed by Theresa May:

‘….the British public….look set for a level of surveillance that’s unprecedented anywhere in the western world….Announcing the bill, home secretary Theresa May said she’d ‘engaged’ with civil liberties groups before preparing the draft. It’s far from clear, though, how this engagement affected the final result – which goes way beyond anything seen outside the world’s most repressive regimes.’

The genetics of this legislation are very important. It is the bastard child of Newscorp criminality (bad guys the Government likes) and blogosmear lunacy (weird guys used by Leveson and the Government as an excuse to restrict diligent writers keen to hold the Executive to account). Much as May et al will try to position this as anti-terrorist in its aims, it predates both Hebdo and the November attacks on Paris.

In the hands of this or future governments of any hue, the Bill represents a clear and present danger to free speech, criticism, Opposition and resistance. In short, it has broader ramifications that go way beyond the libel laws. The neoliberally infected Conservative Party intends to give every rogue in politics, business, spying and finance sweeping rights to protect themselves from any investigation of their nefarious intent. Given the recent track record of that crew, it must be seen as a hammer-blow to free speech, and a carte blanche for the security services.

Broader still, it could be used effortlessly to suppress information that damns, contradicts or even calls into debate ideological ideas in the econo-fiscal sphere. As such, it is not governance: it is a brazen use of political power designed to render political reversal impossible.

Provenance, motives and ramifications: these are the things upon which the Good and True among us must focus at all times now….because the mass of people out there aren’t going to. Everything done in the name of a just cause has a potential knock-on effect. Ultimately, everything is capable of being connected to the power supply of unjust repression.

Such is also true when it comes to the law of ‘Joint Enterprise’. A first rate website called Jengba battles against at times seemingly overwhelming odds in a bid to stop those present at any kind of affray from being auto-convicted of ‘involvement’. Such verdicts not only happen on a horrifically regular basis: the law’s interpetation has been used to convict the entirely innocent bystander.

In immediate terms, it’s a civil rights issue. But along from there, it’s a moral hazard for target-obsessed constabularies keen to make their conviction numbers look better. And equally, it represents an open invitation for wannabe repressive governments to find one nutter chucking a petrol bomb….and bang up the other 340 peacefully demonstrating against the erosion of health services.

The revelation of provenance, motive and ramification is in theory hugely aided by the emergence of the Web. Indeed, the term itself suggests this: the movement at one end of a spider’s web alerts that predator to the existence of a fly.

I have, by the way, no problem at all with the analogy of journalist as predator…if the fly is busy defaecating on the sustenance of Justice.

But increasingly, the internet demarcates the very news it is over-supplying in the first place. And this makes it easier for those operating Behind Your Back.

Why the increasing demarcation of news is a very bad thing indeed

Go to any news/information website in 2015, and you will be hit by the design morés of the internet, which demand a strip-header dividing up the content into specialisms and genres. You won’t be aware of it any more, because the format has been around for so long now it’s like Reception for those who work in a corporate environment: it just is. It doesn’t make us think ‘why?’

Step back for a minute, however, and you’ll see that while the ‘front page’ still exists for so-called ‘breaking news’, entirely missing from most sites is the (for me) best feature of the Web. It’s the one saving grace that stops me from wishing the genie back in the bottle: the ability to source eclectic data quickly when answering the question ‘why?’

Among the blogatariat, this is commonly referred to as “joining up the dots”. It’s a phrase that always starts red lights flashing in my brain, because it is beloved of those who inhabit the lower labyrinths of the rabbit warren in search of a conspiracy theory. Their idea of joining up dots is to suggest that Prince Philip personally organised the Paris attacks in order to evoke an info crack-down, and thus protect the sexual secrets of at least one of his offspring. On the whole, I abhor the ‘democratisation’ of comment that has come with the Web: it has exponentially multiplied the smear so obviously favoured by sociopathic spin doctors and dear old Odd Uncle Algernon. Algies used to be kept under lock and key in the attic of upper class families, but today they are become The Man on the Clapham Keyboard….building the case for Cliff Richard’s species reclassification as a lizard.

However, in the hands of sane, well-educated ‘renaissance’ journalists and scrupulous contrarians like Anna Raccoon, Peter Jukes, Ian Fraser and Nicholas Wilson, the often entirely accurate  revelation of everything from paedomanic drivel and judicial corruption via media criminality and grand-scale financial fraud is given a helping hand.

Without such dedicated Truth-seekers using accessible facts to catch the powerful out, the goggle-eyed “Who, me?” gargoyle tendency out there would be holding all the cards. They already hold most of the face cards; but being neoliberal by nature, They Want it All.

What we need is more blogs, sites, collectives and publications generally out there showing not just a Big Issue, but also how that issue impinges on other liberties, and thus should be the concern of every citizen. Every citizen, that is, keen to avoid the motorway to serfdom being constructed at great speed by every élite from Washington and Canberra via Beijing, Berlin, Moscow and all stops to Westminster-on-Brussels.