Monday, 29 March 2010

Lark Rise to mail interception

One of the small pleasures of a Sunday evening is an hour in front of the television watching Lark Rise to Candleford. Yes, of course it's a totally unrealistic and saccharine representation of a period that for the rural working classes was often grim and harsh, but nonetheless it's an hour of weekend escapism - and, as Dorcas Lane would say, "it's my one weakness".

Last night's episode featured the Declaration that everyone who worked in the postal service of the time was required to sign before a magistrate, starting:
"I do solemnly promise and declare that I will not open or delay or cause or suffer to be delayed any letter or anything sent by the post."
With that episode fresh in my mind, I was therefore more than a little perturbed to read this article by Henry Porter and Afua Hirsch, about Labour's plans to allow tax inspectors to open people's mail without the recipient being present, or even informed their mail has been intercepted.

Laws like this are often introduced by governments claiming that they are intended to be used in rare and extreme circumstances to deal with serious and present dangers. However, we then see them being quietly extended - often with a flourish of a ministerial pen rather than public consultation or debate - or simply abused. In just one example, powers given to local authorities to deal with terrorist threats were used by Poole Borough Council to spy on parents applying for school places to check whether they were living in the catchment area.

The last twenty years have witnessed a series of attacks on our civil liberties - from proposals for ID cards and lengthy periods of detention without charge, to the large numbers of innocent people whose DNA is held on databases. If Labour is re-elected we won't even be able to be sure that our letters haven't been steamed open by the Revenue.


  1. I am appalled but not surprised. One of the few rights prisoners have in prison is the right to their mail from lawyers not to be opened. How can HMRC prove that letters are not legal and/or protected correspondence before steaming open?
    Is our only hope that they won't be able to get our mail is the fact that Labour sold off, stripped and disrupted our mail service to such a degree that we don't get it half the time so they won't either?

  2. Did not Charles I originally open up the Royal Mail to the paying public, not just to raise extra income, but also so that his agents could selectively read correspondence from possible opponents? Are we going back to the days of absolute monarchy?