The picture of George Orwell and his book 1984 was with us again this week, in the form of the Big Brother house. Politician George Galloway MP and monkey skin coated Pete Burns entertained us, because we can listen to all their intimate conversations and hostile exchanges at any time, day or night. Some enjoy living in a goldfish bowl and being on constant public view, although there are certain conversations that could be embarrassing if the wrong people get to hear about them.
Big Brother contestants are paid a lucrative amount to lose their privacy for a few weeks; it is a completely different matter if our elected MPs cannot feel free to talk to their constituents without other interested parties eavesdropping on these conversations. What if I wished to discuss some issue with my MP about the way MI5 had dealt with my own case, maybe even a matter that concerned an illegal act by the Security Service - would I be happy that the very people I was complaining about might listen in on my discussions with my MP? I guess not, but then with a Member of Parliament like Andrew Mackinlay I feel better protected than most.
The point I am referring to is the story in the news this week: after a 40 year period, where it was banned, the phones of British MPs could soon be tapped by the Security Services. Websites such as the BBC (see link), and journalists such as Richard Norton Taylor (see here) will no doubt continue to report these intrusions into our privacy.
This all reminds me of a situation I experienced back in 1992/3. During the period from my arrest in August 1992 until the end of the trial in November 1993, all of my lawyers' telephones were tapped. My lawyers only found out about this because they had a right to check on what telephone tap warrants had been issued. This obviously gave the Crown an unfair advantage, to listen in and discover what the defence were planning in their case, so the prosecution could think up ways to block our defence strategy. My solicitor Richard Jefferies, my barrister Gary Summers, and Rock Tansey QC would meet in each others homes, so they did not need to discuss my case over the telephone. Clearly, legal privilege was not enough to protect the client-lawyer relationship in my case. If MI5 wants to know what your case is, or who your MP is talking to, then apparently it may soon be entitled to listen in. Don’t forget: this is all in the name of anti-terrorism; I wouldn’t want you to think there was no reason why our MPs needed to be kept under surveillance.
You might think this was more like the sort of thing that happened in Stalin’s Russia, or some police state. The Catholics met in private houses in Elizabethan England for fear of their lives, and now our MPs may have to do something similar to avoid falling foul of the Security Services. Where else might this happen in the modern world? We live in a country that was the home of parliamentary democracy, free speech, and now Big Brother. Which brings me full circle back to George Orwell – now, was he referring in 1984 to Stalinist Russia, or was it dear old England?