How much power should a government have? How about enough to administer a national health care system? How about enough to extract and redistribute wealth from all parts of a country? How about enough to monitor your telephone conversations in the name of national security?
Just weeks after the discovery that U.S. President George W. Bush was tapping phones in the wake of 9/11, it is revealed that British Prime Minister Tony Blair wants to do the same thing (Elliot, 2006). In a speech given after the London bombings of July 7, 2005, the Prime Minister said, “Let no one be in any doubt, the rule(s) of the game are changing” (Ibid.). Indeed! This means he can follow the example of his American ally (and that liberty-pilfering Patriot Act), enforce all sorts of laws that infringe on the rights of his citizenry, and justify it all with “July 7th.” Step One? The removal of that pesky Wilson Doctrine.
Commotion in the House of Commons back in 1966 (sparked by the insinuation that British MI5, Britain’s official security service, had the capability to hear secret conversations between Members of Parliament) led Prime Minister Harold Wilson to reassure his government that “there should be no [phone]-tapping whatsoever” (Ibid). Each subsequent Prime Minister has agreed, until now. Tony Blair is expected to formally announce the scrapping of the Wilson Doctrine within weeks, a move that has his Parliament incensed.
Blair’s Labour Government has already strained, to the limits, its capacity to trust British citizens, be they elected officials or regular residents. In 2003, Sinn Fein (the political party closely associated with the Irish Republican Army) member Gerry Adams shocked the nation when he announced that a listening device had been placed in a car frequented by himself and other party members. A member of MI5 later admitted to planting the device, a move that was validated by the logic that “since Mr. Adams refuses to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen, he is not formally an MP” (Ibid).
If Blair does away with even these slight formalities, the country lies subject to some of his most controversial and freedom-impairing legislation yet. Body scanners, phone tapping, Internet spying and traffic tagging have already come into effect, thanks to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act of 2000. This is the most recent move on Blair’s part that leaves the country open to identification cards, increased DNA databases and probably any other technological advances that sound fun at the time.
BBC News (2005, December 19). Bush defends phone-tapping policy. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4542880.stm
Elliot, F. (2006, January 15). The politics of paranoia. The Independent on Sunday. Retrieved from http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/article338692.ece