State Surveillance and Social Democracy

Cian Murphy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book

283 Downloads (Pure)


This chapter examines the passage and content of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (IPA) to argue that social democrats are failing to address threats to civil liberties – to their detriment. For Ewing, in a social democratic state, constitutional authority derives from the sovereignty of the people and vests in elected representatives. Its goals are ‘the promotion of the social, economic and cultural well-being of citizens’ and those socialist reforms are to be done consistently with civil and political rights.1 Thus, social democracy entails ‘the extension of liberal principles to different sites of struggle’.2 As a result there is a strong socio-economic focus and it is therefore unsurprising that many of the chapters in this book focus, for example, on labour law. However, to borrow a phrase from Ewing and Gearty ‘the struggle for civil liberties’3 remains vital. This chapter argues that the failure by the Labour Party (and other social democrats) to get to grips with the IPA illustrates an ambivalence towards civil liberties. This ambivalence persists despite a history of state misuse of powers against social democrats, and despite (earlier) vocal opposition to the legislation by those who were party leaders while the Bill became law.

This chapter proceeds with the following parts. Part II presents a historical analysis as the foundation for the study. It intertwines two histories: the rise of state surveillance capacity, in particular surveillance of telecommunications, in the UK; and the legal protection of civil liberties and its relationship with surveillance law. Part III examines the origins and adoption of the IPA. It demonstrates how, despite significant political review, and civil society engagement, there was little prospect of significant changes in Parliament because of the acquiescence of the Labour Party with the government’s Bill. Part IV considers the fruit of this failure: weak protections for lawyers, journalists, and trade unionists. The final part highlights ongoing litigation and the potential future evolution of surveillance. The IPA demonstrates ‘the re-assertion of the surveillance realist insistence that there is no alternative’.4 This perception helps to perpetuate profound legal powers of surveillance. All of this is made possible, in part, by a failure to protect the civil liberties which underpin all progressive struggles
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Constitution of Social Democracy
Subtitle of host publicationEssays in Honour of Keith Ewing
EditorsAlan Bogg, Jacob Rowbottom, Alison L. Young
PublisherHart Publishing
ISBN (Electronic) 9781509916580
ISBN (Print)9781509916573
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jul 2020


Dive into the research topics of 'State Surveillance and Social Democracy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this