We've written a few times about Theresa May
, the UK's Home Secretary, who seems to have scarily authoritarian, anti-democratic and anti-free speech views. While she insists that the UK isn't a surveillance state, she can't tell you why
, because revealing the secrets of the UK surveillance state might put the public at risk. Since late last year, she's been pushing strongly for outlawing thought crimes
, which would allow her to prevent people from sharing their views on the internet or at events, if she deems them to be too extreme. After the recent election, the plan to move this forward has gone into effect, with David Cameron gleefully announcing that just obeying the law
will no longer stop the UK government from harassing you. Now, if it doesn't like you or what you believe, you will be silenced.
Given all that, it is absolutely terrifying to read Theresa May's recent speech
given at the Metropolitan Police's counter-terrorism conference. Given the audience, perhaps it shouldn't be too
surprising that May would go off the deep end of Orwellian craziness -- but it's still fairly astounding to see what she actually said. It honestly reads like a bad novel or bad movie script where an editor or producer would scribble on the page "no real person talks like that." Theresa May does, apparently. Here are some of the lowlights.
Time and again we are seeing what we are now up against: the powerful allure of propaganda pumped out by ISIL and others to recruit and brainwash British men and women, the access social media and modern communications give terrorists to vulnerable people, and the desire of those terrorists to poison others against our values and our way of life.
And so we begin with FUD. This popular idea that because ISIS is pretty good at using social media, it's that social media
that is the problem. While there are lots of news stories out there claiming that ISIS' social media usage is drawing recruits, actual research into what's going on paints a much more nuanced picture that suggests that while social media is one tool
that is used for recruiting, there is almost no evidence to suggest that the social media campaign is successful in "brainwashing" men and women to support ISIS. Rather, the hype about ISIS and social media is overblown
. Most of the recruitment actually comes from within existing social circles. It may use the internet
, but it's not happening because
of the internet.
Lots of studies have certainly found that social media plays a part, but it doesn't suggest that merely silencing social media will help. A RAND study
found no evidence "that the internet accelerates radicalisation or replaces the need for individuals to meet in person during their radicalisation process," and it also "didn't find any supporting evidence for the concept of self-radicalisation through the internet." While other studies, such as those from the Soufan Group
and the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation
, show more support for radicalization on the internet, and also note that social media is just one component that pushes those who are already marginalized into deciding to take that step. In other words, these are often people on the edge already, and it's not clear that censorship is likely to help, other than making these people feel more marginalized.
May goes on to detail various attacks in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, drumming up more fear. And, it's true, that the world is a dangerous place and many people are trying to cause harm. But to think that the answer to that is more surveillance, silencing free speech and making the marginalized feel more marginalized... well, that seems like an approach destined to fail. But it's the approach May supports wholeheartedly, as she gleefully talks about the approach taken by her government. First, she really enjoys kicking people out of the country if she doesn't like them:
We made it easier to get rid of undesirable foreign nationals, including terrorists and terror suspects.
Since August 2013 I have deprived 10 people of their British citizenship on the grounds that I do not consider their presence in the UK to be conducive to the public good.
Think about that latter statement for a second. Because a government official decides that she doesn't think your presence in the UK is "conducive to the public good" she can simply strip their British citizenship. I'm sure that
doesn't anger those folks and encourage them to join forces with those who hate the UK at all
And, of course, the censorship:
Our Internet Referral Unit takes down terrorist-related content from the internet, and since February 2010 we have removed more than 90,000 pieces of material – currently removing around 1,000 pieces a week.
Again, because making content that marginalized groups are reading disappear doesn't make them feel more oppressed and more angry at all...
And, of course, she's been actively expanding her powers in these areas:
We introduced a new power to temporarily seize the passports of people suspected of travelling to engage in terrorism overseas, and since it came into force I can confirm that we have used this power and it has proved effective....
We extended the Authority To Carry provisions, and we are refusing airlines authority to carry to the UK people who have been excluded or deported from the UK or who are using invalid, stolen or lost travel documents.
And then, of course, she eagerly draws in all sorts of institutions -- including schools -- to have a responsibility to be trying to sniff out those darn terrorists in their midst:
And from 1 July the new statutory Prevent duty for specified authorities will commence. Once this has been fully implemented it will require local authorities, the police, prisons, probation services, schools, colleges – and yes, universities too – to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.
The end result? The UK is locking up tons of people on charges of terrorism, despite no actual terrorism happening there:
Mark Rowley, the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, summed up that workload earlier this year when he said that terrorists are being arrested at a rate of almost one every day.
You'd think with so many terrorists, at least a few more attacks would get through. Or is this all just a bit of a "rounding up the marginalized people" exercise?
Hilariously, at the end of the speech, she says that the best way to counter this threat is to highlight the "positive vision" of the UK and its "values."
So the Government has announced a new counter-extremism strategy to protect people from extremism in all its forms: non-violent and violent, Islamist and neo-Nazi. At the heart of that strategy sits a positive vision of Britain and our values, and an open offer to work in partnership with all those determined to eradicate extremism.
Considering she just spent most of the speech advocating censorship, kicking undesirable people out of the country and greater and greater surveillance powers, it seems that those "values" are pretty clear. And, as she makes it clear in the very next paragraph, apparently the "value" of letting those marginalized people speak out is not included:
I want this partnership to reclaim that debate…. to defeat their poisonous ideology… and deny them the opportunity to spread messages of hate and division.
None of this, of course, is to defend ISIS or its media propaganda machine, which at the very least has been effective in getting its message out. But the idea that the way to counter this is through censorship, surveillance and threats, rather than direct engagement seems to muddle the message of claiming the UK is about freedom and democracy, doesn't it?