May 23, 2022 - 3:46pm

If this Parliamentary term will be remembered for anything, it will be the repeated attacks on individual freedom. From the Government that brought you vaccine passports and the Online Safety Bill, we now have a new Public Order Bill due to have its Second Reading in Parliament this afternoon. 

In a piece published in today’s Times, the Policing Minister Kit Malthouse has set out his stall with a series of arguments as to why he believes the Bill is necessary. The article contains a litany of contortions and falsehoods. In his justification for the legislation, he cites examples of protesters obstructing highways, ambulances or trains as reason to take action. What he fails to mention is that all of these acts already constitute criminal offences. But every police failure seems to have only added to a mounting justification for yet more police powers. 

The bill will introduce a vast expansion of state powers, including powers which specifically target those who are entirely innocent and not even suspected of involvement in any crime. But most astonishing of all, hidden inside it are new plans to electronically tag innocent people for attending protests. Through “Serious Disruption Prevention Orders”, also known as “Protest Banning Orders”, the state will have the powers to control the lives of people who are adjudged to risk “disruption”, where of course disruption is not defined. 

Anyone issued with one of these orders will have certain conditions placed on their day-to-day lives. This will affect where they go, who they see and even what they do online. Specifically, they can be banned from attending demonstrations or marches.

Fulfilment of these requirements will necessitate around-the-clock surveillance from authorities. In order to make this possible, the Government has said that those people subject to SDPOs may be electronically monitored using GPS tagging. We are now firmly in the territory of political surveillance.

Civil liberties have taken a battering over the last two years. Despite the fact that many of the authoritarian measures in the infamous Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill are yet to come into force, we already have the next piece of anti-protest legislation looming on the horizon.

These plans have to be stopped in their tracks. From the Labour Left to Conservative libertarians, no parliamentarian should authorise GPS ankle tags for innocent people — they cannot pretend not to see the creeping authoritarianism unfolding before our eyes.

Mark Johnson is Advocacy Manager at Big Brother Watch.