Alex Massie

The March of the Surveillance State

Text settings

Good grief:

All telecoms companies and internet service providers will be required by law to keep a record of every customer's personal communications, showing who they are contacting, when, where and which websites they are visiting.

Despite widespread opposition over Britain's growing surveillance society, 653 public bodies will be given access to the confidential information, including police, local councils, the Financial Services Authority, the Ambulance Service, fire authorities and even prison governors.

They will not require the permission of a judge or a magistrate to access the information, but simply the authorisation of a senior police officer or the equivalent of a deputy head of department at a local authority.

Ministers had originally wanted to store the information on a massive Government-run database, but chose not to because of privacy concerns. [Emphasis added to note the gallows hilarity of this.]

...The new law will increase the amount of personal data which can be accessed by officials through the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which is supposed to be used for combatting terrorism..

The latest figures on the use of the RIPA legislation by public bodies, show that state bodies including town halls made 519,260 requests last year - one every minute - to spy on the phone records and email accounts of members of the public.

The number of requests has risen by 44 per cent in two years to a rate of 1,422 new cases every day, leading to claims of an abuse of using the powers for trivial matters such as littering and dog fouling.

Really, assuming the Telegraph report is accurate, it's hard to know where to begin with this sort of thing because, of course, there's no end to it even though, natch, there's ample evidence that existing powers are misused every single day.

Not the least of the tests facing a putative Conservative government is the extent to which they roll-back this sort of thing. They sometimes talk quite a good game but one cannot quite shrug off the suspicion, unworthy as it may be, that they may find these laws rather useful once they're in power. Chris Grayling, rightly, warns about "mission creep" now, but what will he do in government?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSocietylabour partyterrorism