30 March 2020 — True Publica
By TruePublica: No-one in the mainstream media has made mention of what has happened here. Everyone has remained silent. No public figure of significance has raised an eyebrow. Everyone has gone along with this. Even human rights and civil liberty NGO’s have been motionless by what can only be described as a huge assault on the fundamental freedoms, of movement and assembly in Britain, made by the Johnson government. And why was so much authority needed by this government in the Coronavirus Act right now when they took no heed of the warnings of others about this crisis? It’s because they’ve now understood the opportunity it presents.
Right now, Britain is governed by a regime with unprecedented authoritarian powers. No such powers were given to the government in WW1 or WW2 when we were fighting for our very existence.
And who opposed this, who even asked any questions? No-one, that’s who. Why did this government give themselves two years of powers, with a cursory nod through every six months, that only people like Putin and Xi Jinping have when even they expect the crisis to have peaked in three months time? And even if secretly they believe this crisis will go on until next June, who now can hold this government to account all the way until April 2022? The media have failed us once again for sitting back and questioning nothing. As usual, public opinion was like watching a deer being run over in the headlights. Not a squeak from anyone, perhaps with the exception of the brave civil liberties organisation Big Brother Watch, which has warned that the Coronavirus Bill (now an Act) contains the “most draconian powers in peacetime Britain” and at the time, urged close scrutiny from Parliamentarians, which didn’t happen.
The campaign organisation warned that the Coronavirus Bill would:
- Empower police, immigration officers and public health officials to demand documentation; detain and isolate members of the public potentially indefinitely, including children; and forcibly take biological samples for testing
- Permits prohibition of public events and gatherings without standard protections for strikes and industrial action that exist in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004
- Weakens safeguards on the exercise of mass surveillance powers by quadrupling time review limits for urgent warrants
The civil liberties organisation warned that some of the sweeping powers are “unprecedented, unexplained and simply unjustified”. Groups of more than two people can now be dealt with by the police and now there is no legal responsibility for local authorities to provide desperately needed services to the elderly or vulnerable. There are good reasons for this during a pandemic, there are none when it is over.
Big Brother Watch questioned whether the relaxation of protections on mass surveillance powers could signal that the powers could be used more extensively during the pandemic. Countries including Israel and China have reportedly used phone tracking to enforce quarantine restrictions on people suspected of infection with COVID-19.
News reports have already suggested that 02 has been asked by the Government to hand over “anonymous mobile phone location data in order to ensure people are following social distancing guidelines”. However, phone location data is rarely truly “anonymous”. Big Brother Watch demanded an explanation from the Government.
Director of Big Brother Watch, Silkie Carlo, said:
“It is right that Government is taking rapid and robust action to protect public health, but we cannot let basic rights fall casualty to this crisis. Our country faces challenges best when we hold onto our values, not abandon them.
“The Bill contains blank cheque powers to detain and test ‘potentially infectious’ members of the public and even children in unidentified isolation facilities on threat of criminal sanctions. That could be any one of us. It contains sweeping powers to shut down even political assemblies, which could thwart the possibility of public protest against this power grab in the months ahead.
“These breath taking powers demand utmost caution, the closest scrutiny and the strictest time limitations. Many of the powers are unprecedented, unexplained and simply unjustified. The two-year duration of the Act has not been justified and is totally out of step with the existing legal standards for emergency regulations.
“This is no time for parliamentarians to abdicate their vital function of scrutiny. These extraordinary powers risk permanently rebalancing the relationship between citizens and the state.
“This crisis requires the public’s courage and co-operation, not our criminalisation. These are the most draconian powers ever proposed in peace-time Britain and they require urgent review and reform.”
When Britain gets to the other side of this crisis the country will be facing another and then another. The first is that more will be known about the state of the economy. The recession promises to be breathtaking in breadth and depth. Millions will be affected and whilst their gaze is tuned into household survival – Brexit, another economic disaster in the making will be forced through. This time, the public will be begging for chlorinated chicken, hormone-injected beef and cancer-inducing lipsticks. Any public dissent will be snuffed out with mass arrests used as a deterrent. Watch, wait and see. This government has not passed unnecessary laws such as this and granted themselves ample time to stuff through their agenda. They will not let this crisis go to waste.