United Kingdom

First Discussion, Then Total Surveillance

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The U.K. already has more surveillance cameras per capita than any other country. Now the British government plans to monitor every phone call, text message, email, and Web site visit, entering the information into an enormous database that would be used to catch terrorists, pedophiles, and scam artists. The London Times reports that "MI5 [the domestic spy agency] currently conducts limited e-mail and website intercepts which are approved under specific warrants by the home secretary." Dominic Grieve, the shadow home secretary, calls the plan "a substantial shift in the powers of the state to obtain information on individuals" and warns that "any suggestion of the government using existing powers to intercept communications data without public discussion is going to sound extremely sinister." You think?

Although the U.S. government is moving in the same direction, it is taking less dramatic steps and must overcome bigger political and legal obstacles. It's pretty clear from Grieve's comments that Britain will end up with something similar to the electronic dragnet the government wants, once the "public discussion" is out of the way. But such a move in this country would require either a constitutional amendment or a complete abdication of judicial responsibility. Although the courts have whittled away at the Fourth Amendment over the years, first to assist the War on Drugs and now to assist the War on Terror, it still counts for something. Or so I like to think.

[via The Freedom Files]