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June 05, 2014 | Ed Johnson-Williams

Snowden: one year on and still no action by the British government

Last weekend I was on holiday in Hamburg. I got chatting to a German man in a cafe who asked me, as people do in casual conversation, about my work. I told him about ORG's work challenging the UK's surveillance of the Internet. He started talking about how angry he was at the way the UK and USA's surveillance has forced him to think differently when he uses the Internet.

He now finds himself always double-checking that what he searches for on Google, or what he writes on Facebook, or what he sends in an email couldn't be misconstrued by an intelligence agency as something suspicious. He thought it was wrong that he has to worry about who's watching him. He didn't put it in these terms but he'd identified the UK and USA's surveillance as a breach of his everyday freedoms of expression, thought and association as well as his privacy.

It's a year since The Guardian published the first of many news stories about the scale of GCHQ and the NSA's intrusion into our private lives. Based on the revelations of whistleblower Edward Snowden, the stories had global implications, exposing the insecurity of the Internet, straining relationships between the US and its allies and raising questions about who has control over the agencies that purport to protect our freedoms.

And as my conversation in Germany showed, surveillance has damaged global freedom of expression, affecting the way we think when we use the Internet. There have been other consequences to free speech in the UK as well. We have fallen five places in the Freedom House world ranking of countries' press freedom. This was as a result of legal threats made by the Government against The Guardian, the destruction of hard drives in the newspaper's offices and the detainment of David Miranda, the partner of Glenn Greenwald - one of the journalists who broke the Snowden story.

Despite this, and unlike in the US or the rest of Europe, there has been limited public and political debate in the UK. The issue continues to be conveniently ignored by the UK government and sidelined by most of our mainstream media.

In a new film Classified, launched by ORG today, we expose the failure of the Government to oversee the agencies that are scooping up massive amounts of our personal data in the name of national security. MPs, including Dominic Raab, David Davis, Julian Huppert and Tom Watson, admit that they didn't know about the extent of mass surveillance until The Guardian published Snowden's revelations. As the leader of the Green party Natalie Bennet points out, when democratically elected people, "who are supposed to control our security services didn't is extremely disturbing". (Download the torrent here)

Our film shows that those charged with holding the agencies to account do not appear to have the knowledge and expertise to do their job properly. We need a proper inquiry and new legislation that will protect our rights and ensure that there is both judicial and political oversight of surveillance.

One year on, it's still not too late to demand change. MPs tell us that the best way to get their attention is constituents telling them in their own words why they care about an issue, so please help us by signing the Don't Spy on Us petition and then writing a brief email to your MP.

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