WHEN the postman deposited your letters on the mat this morning, did you pause to wonder if the Government had intercepted them en route, whether a faceless official had taken a note of what you received and from whom it had come?
Would you feel comfortable if that had happened?
Imagine this. What if your local Post Office had a special counter where the names and addresses on your letters or parcels were routinely recorded by a clerk before you were able to post them?
Would you object – even if he or she didn't actually open them?
Would you mind if a state snooper followed you to log the newspaper you read, the shops you prefer, the interests you pursue?
It's a ridiculous notion, I hear you say. No-one would stand for it. After all, wars have been fought and men have died for less serious intrusions on our rights and freedoms.
So why does the Westminster Government think it is any more acceptable to log our every email, text, mobile phone call and browse of the web? It's what it is planning, if we let it off with it.
A new law is expected to be included in the Queen's Speech next month. If passed it will permit the greatest ever incursion into the privacy of the individual on this island. It is a betrayal of every one of us, an attack on our way of life, and we are fools if we fail to fight it.
Fools too, if we fall for their arguments. It's for our own good, Government spokesmen and security professionals say. It will protect us from terrorism and from crime. What's being proposed is the crime.
We all want to reduce the risk of being blown up or attacked or robbed – but not at the cost of our fundamental freedoms. The cure can be worse than the disease.
I'm no Luddite. I applaud the actor George Clooney. He is funding a project with Google which uses satellite imagery to track troop movements in Sudan and warn civilians of impending attacks. That's surveillance used to do good.
Besides, like most people, I have little to hide. Quite why the Government wants to trawl through my emails from Amazon or my lunch arrangements with respectable friends is beyond me. There are mornings when I can barely face the unopened mail myself for fear of dozing off again.
I presume they will watch patterns of behaviour and register unusual changes. They will focus on suspects and their connections then spread outward. Aren't there supposed to be only six links between any two people on the planet? From you or me to President Obama, for example.
Since terrorism is as likely to be home-grown as imported, you can see the logic from the security agencies' viewpoint. It's understandable that ministers (who are amateurs by definition) grow alarmed that horrors might happen on their watch; that they might be blamed or might blame themselves.
David Cameron stood out against this sort of incursion on our civil liberties when he was in opposition. He railed against the Intercept Modernisation Programme, New Labour's version of the Government's proposal. I remember it clearly because it was the one moment I thought he might be worth supporting. What's happened to him since then? More puzzling still, what's happened to Nick Clegg? How is this proposed law either liberal or democratic?
The pair of them are presiding over a country that is shifting incrementally to an authoritarian future. Small, well-meaning measures are being introduced like jigsaw pieces. Each is understandable and supported by reasonable arguments but, when amalgamated, they could shift our levels of surveillance towards those of China.
We've heard the anti-terrorism argument before: when 90-day detention without trial was mooted; when stop-and-search was extended (there were a quarter of a million stop-and-searches before that was withdrawn); when the controversial extradition arrangements with the US were introduced.
Why stop at logging emails and web traffic? Why not let the Government read every email without needing to go to a court? Surely that would make us safer still. Why not permit the security agencies to watch us through our webcams? If we are law-abiding, what do we have to hide?
After all the security services are on our side. Aren't they? They're our servants, employed to keep us safe.
I have to say it didn't feel that way to me when I travelled through Gatwick last month. The moving walkway into North Terminal was flanked by eight heavily-armed policemen. They stood at 10-metre intervals watching us as we trundled past with our wheelie cases.
Who were they expecting? We were getting off the train to catch internal flights, not arriving from Colombia. Did their presence make me feel safer? No. I felt threatened.
I feel just as threatened by this proposed legislation and for similar reasons.
Those who aim to destroy our society with violence know their way round these sorts of proposals. There are scores of proxy service providers where identity can be hidden. Many webmail services are based overseas so they can't be charted legally. It's the ordinary citizen who will suffer intrusion – and pay for the privilege. It will cost fortunes. That's an argument that carries force. For once a shortage of money could be to our benefit.
It is in the nature of security experts that they want to use every technological advance to gather more and more information. Professor Anthony Glees, director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham told Radio 4's Today programme that privacy, "militates in favour of the people who want to take the liberties of the rest of us".
The question is, without privacy do we have liberty? To my mind privacy and liberty walk hand in hand. If you remove one you damage the other. If everything we do is monitored, only the benignity of our government will separate our lot from that of East Germans under the Stasi.
This legislation is leading us along a road paved with good intentions – but the lessons of history show it is still the road to hell.
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