Concern over a giant database? You bet!

Lord Carlisle, the government’s reviewer of anti-terror legislation, has expressed his concerns about the proposed interception of data plans in the Communications Data Bill, which is set to go before Parliament in the next session. He’s not minced his words: “As a raw idea it is awful”.

This may be understating the facts – at a time when the UK has taken on £11,000 of debt per family to bail out the banks, the last thing we need is to blow up to £15bn on a system that will intercept the telephone and email communications of absolutely everyone. This approach is simply disproportionate and unnecessary, and effectively criminalises the entire population in a quest to find the few who may be engaged in terrorist activities.

Not so many years ago, we were accustomed to things going bang on a regular basis, particularly in London. The loss of life was utterly tragic, and the cost to the economy substantial, but this sort of idea was not discussed then (although to be fair, the technology didn’t exist to do it at that time). The idea of tapping all communications as a matter of routine in the face of the modern threat is simply not proportionate. Just because we can intercept private communications, it doesn’t mean we should.

Benjamin Franklin understood this all too well. In 1775, he wrote “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” If this part of the Bill goes through, then we will certainly have relinquished both to any future government that chooses to use such a scheme for anything other than anti-terror controls. Look at the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act – it was intended to allow the monitoring of terrorists, but is now routinely used to check on dog fouling, school catchment areas and fly tipping. Can we really be so sure the same won’t happen with this panopticon of a system?

Update: The National Research Council in Canada has concluded that such data mining initiative are of very limited use in anti-terror controls.