Various news reports detail the UK government’s plan to create a massive database with the details of every phone call made and every e-mail sent in the UK. The Home Office (equivalent to the US departments of Justice and Homeland Security) also seeks records for all Internet use in the UK. Though it has discussed the creation of this surveillance system with telecoms and Internet Service Providers, the Home Office has yet to speak to British legislators about the plan. The anti-terrorism banner is again being waved to justify this enormous invasion of human rights and dignity.
Jonathan Bamford, the assistant Information Commissioner, said it best: “We are not aware of any justification for the State to hold every UK citizen’s phone and internet records. We have real doubts that such a measure can be justified, or is proportionate or desirable.”
The UK government also has been facing public opposition to its plans for a national ID database. And it has a poor record of keeping personal data confidential. In November, the UK government admitted it had lost two discs containing “names, dates of birth, bank and address details” for 25 million people – data on all of the 7.25 million families in the UK with a child under 16 for the UK child benefit program.
Unless the public is vigilant, I believe that we will fast approach a society where “innocent until proven guilty” is turned on its head. In order to prove their innocence, citizens will have to submit to being treated as criminals. After all, the argument runs, “If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear from government surveillance and recording of every second of your life.” It is ridiculous to equate privacy and discretion with criminality. Just because I want to keep my personal e-mails and phone calls private doesn’t mean that I’m conducting drug deals. What it does mean is that I don’t want my sensitive data in the hands of others who have no right to have it.