Eyes on the U.K.

Britain's surveillance state

The United Kingdom already has more surveillance cameras per capita than any other country. Now the British government reportedly plans to monitor every phone call, website visit, text message, and email, entering the information into an enormous database that would be used to catch terrorists, pedophiles, and scam artists.

In early October, when several British newspapers revealed the heretofore secret scheme, Dominic Grieve, the shadow home secretary, called it “a substantial shift in the powers of the state to obtain information on individuals” and warned that “any suggestion of the government using existing powers to intercept communications data without public discussion is going to sound extremely sinister.” Privacy activist Michael Parker told the Daily Express: “It is a shocking intrusion into privacy. This is stalking. If an individual carried out this sort of snooping, it would be a crime.”

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith later gave a speech in which she said the electronic dragnet would be limited to data transmitted through websites and information about the identitie sand locations of senders and recipients. She said investigators would still need ministerial warrants, a kind of administrative subpoena, to listen to or read the contents of communications.

The speech apparently did not reassure Ken MacDonald. In late October, shortly before stepping down as director of public prosecutions for England and Wales, MacDonald warned that “decisions taken in the next few months and years about how the state may use these [surveillance] powers, and to what extent, are likely to be irreversible,” adding, “We need to take very great care not to fall into a way of life in which freedom’s back is broken by the relentless pressure of a security state.”

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