Britain awake to the dangers of snooping

Posted by Rachel Robinson on 09 November 2012

It was as recently as 2009 that David Cameron spoke of the perils of intrusive surveillance. “Today we’re in danger of living in a control state,” he warned. “The tentacles of the State can even rifle through your bins for juicy information”.

He duly embarked upon an election campaign against blanket intrusion via ID cards, the hoarding of innocent’s DNA and sweeping snooping powers. Such principles no doubt made Coalition life easier, and many pledges have been partly kept. But it seems life inside Number 10 isn’t so simple. Whoever gets the Downing Street keys, the Whitehall spooks pursue their long-term agendas regardless.

And so the “Snoopers’ Charter” – resisted by both the Conservatives and Lib Dems in opposition – is back with a vengeance. Also known as the Draft Communications Data Bill, this hideous blueprint would force communications companies to compile huge databases about the online habits of the entire populations, from the websites we visit to details of our email communications – right down to what we ‘like’ on Facebook. All this ‘just in case’ the authorities might one day be interested. In other words, mass monitoring of the whole country costing a cool £1.8billion.

This new law would capture more revealing information than ever before. Consider what a year-long online activity log might reveal about your health, politics, religion and sexuality. Such “communications data” can build up an incredibly intimate picture of you. And just how safe will this potentially valuable information be? It would surely attract the attention of those with commercial interests and more malevolent motivations. Who can forget the countless blunders in which sensitive data – from medical records to military personnel details – has been lost in the past?

New YouGov polling commissioned by Liberty reveals how worried the population is about the threat of the Snoopers’ Charter. Of those polled, 71 per cent were worried about the sheer amount of web data already stored online; 77 per cent didn’t trust private companies to safeguard such information and 73 per cent didn’t trust the Government to do so either. Most damningly only nine per cent thought that internet service providers should collect records of all users’ activities, as the Government is now proposing.

Britain is clearly waking up to the dangers of being too casual with our personal information. Let’s hope Ministers are listening. We’re a nation of citizens, not suspects, and that’s precisely how it should stay.

Rachel Robinson

Rachel Robinson

Policy and Advocacy Manager