Manchester attack could lead to further crackdown on online freedoms

Houses of Parliament

The recent terrorist attack in Manchester has left the whole of the UK in a state of shock. Whilst another terrorist attack is sadly almost a fact of life at the moment, that it should be targeted at innocent children attending a pop concert has left many people reeling.

But, as we wrote a couple of days ago, the likelihood is that the British Government, regardless of whom should win the imminent general election, will want to be seen to be giving a strong response. And sadly, there is a strong possibility that this will see the rights and freedoms of British citizens being eroded still further.

Open Rights Group Warnings

The Open Rights Group, which VPNCompare.co.uk is proud to support, has made just such a suggestion and raised some very well-founded concerns.

They have firstly pointed to the timing of the attack, right in the middle of a General Election campaign. As Jim Killock, the executive director of the Open Rights Group, said in a statement, “politicians cannot help but be aware that their response will affect the outcome of the election – and this could see policies that exploit public fears.”

His fears are well founded. Even when not on the campaign trail, politicians in the UK have a proven track record of using terrorist atrocities to try and pass every more intrusive laws. The response of Home Secretary Amber Rudd to the recent terrorist attack in Westminster is just the most recent example of this.

At a time when public emotion is running particularly high, it will come as no surprise to see politicians seeking to leverage the mood to claim more votes for them and their party.

But, as Jim Killock went on to point out, ever more invasive surveillance laws does not make the chances of stopping a future terrorist attack any more likely. Instead, it is likely to see the already overworked intelligence agents swamped with ever more information as well as make it easier for terrorists to avoid detect simply by changing their habits.

Many people have also argued that the aim of terrorists is to undermine the freedoms and liberties enjoyed by people in the western world and that by eroding these, the UK Government and others are actually helping terrorism to win.

In his statement, Jim Killock was clear about how far he thought such surveillance laws should go.

“We believe that these agencies need powers of surveillance to do this,” he said. “However, we also believe that there must be limits to these powers in order to preserve the democratic values of freedom and liberty – the same values that terrorists want to undermine. This is the central challenge of the moment.”

Technical Capabilities Orders to be implemented

However, despite this very reasoned approach, the Government appears to be dead-set on doing exactly the opposite. Media briefings are suggesting that the Government is already planning to use some of the most intrusive parts of the Investigatory Powers Bill in response to this latest attack.

There are suggestions that Technical Capability Orders, which would require tech companies to break their own security to allow access to encrypted communications, could now be used. These will require parliamentary approval, but if, as expected, the Conservative Party is re-elected with a large majority, that will be easily achieved.

The Sun newspaper quoted an anonymous Government minister as saying “We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in… The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now.”

It remains to be seen whether the big tech companies are able, or indeed willing, to comply with such orders, but to place the requirement on them would be another step towards Britain becoming a security state.

Such a move is likely to see even more people turning to a VPN, such as IPVanish or ExpressVPN, to protect their online privacy. Most VPNs are based outside the UK and therefore not compelled to require with such domestic laws.

The policies of the current Government have already seen a spike in VPN usage in the UK. Should online surveillance be extended still further, those numbers can be expected to snowball.

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