Our ever authoritarian Home Secretary never rests. Proving beyond all doubt that even though the government has no money to spend on pointless projects, they’re determined to control us at all costs, Jacqui Smith is reintroducing her ‘superdatabase’ project:
Every phone call, email or website visit will be monitored by the state under plans to be unveiled next week.
The proposals will give police and security services the power to snoop on every single communication made by the public with the data then likely to be stored in an enormous national database.
The precise content of calls and other communications would not be accessible but even text messages and visits to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter would be tracked.
The move has alarmed civil liberty campaigners, and the country’s data protection watchdog last night warned the proposals would be “unacceptable”.
Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, will argue the powers are needed to target terrorists and serious criminals who are taking advantage of the increasing complex nature of communications to plot atrocities and crimes.
So true to form she’s circumventing the objection to her proposal by changing its form, but not its purpose, nor its end result. She was told by the European Court of Human Rights to remove innocent people from the national DNA database; she resolved instead to keep their DNA profiles instead. Now she intends to save us by subjugating us by stealth – not through a single ‘superdatabase’ as feared, rather she’s subcontracted the responsibility for holding the information to communication service providers. The Interception Modernisation Programme would still rob every single person in the country of privacy (can we have an immediate challenge under the Human Rights Act please?), and would cost up to £2 billion, quite a sum for a government which has run out of money, and which is going to need to cut essential public services.
Of course it’s also a further step towards a culture of precriminalisation. Smith already enables this through the police’s nationwide forward intelligence teams (FIT) – videoing, photographing, and in the case of the G20 policing taking names too, of people who have not committed a crime, yet are still placed on a police database which is currently not under executive, legislative or judicial control. Now she wants to extend that level of surveillance and control into every home, allowing the state to know effectively everything about what you’re doing online in your private time and in your (once-) private space. No doubt she’ll bleat about how safe the information would be from state abuse, but don’t you believe it. Not only is function creep inevitable (as we’ve seen with every other government wheeze about collecting and sharing information about private citizens), but we know from the Home Office’s abuse of its own DNA database that unlimited and unspecific data collecting reaps no measurable rewards.
The decision to abandon a state central database is a setback for the police and security services who wanted rapid access to the data while conducting counter-terror and crime investigations. Instead they will have to apply for the data to be released to them on a case-by-case basis to each individual telecoms and internet company.
Yet what will the threshold be, under which data would be released to the police and security services? Who will set that threshold and where will the oversight come from? The Home Office? The *shudder* Home Secretary?
The Register reminds us of an excellent point:
The Big Brother datastore has been criticised by privacy advocates. Liberty said it was a hallmark of free societies that police target criminals rather than spend time watching and monitoring the whole population.