The Times UK reveals a massive surveillance plan by the British government.
Everyone who buys a mobile telephone will be forced to register their identity on a national database under government plans to extend massively the powers of state surveillance.
Phone buyers would have to present a passport or other official form of identification at the point of purchase. Privacy campaigners fear it marks the latest government move to create a surveillance society.
A compulsory national register for the owners of all 72m mobile phones in Britain would be part of a much bigger database to combat terrorism and crime. Whitehall officials have raised the idea of a register containing the names and addresses of everyone who buys a phone in recent talks with Vodafone and other telephone companies, insiders say.
Of course, the excuse for broad surveillance of all citizens is the theory that it’s needed to catch the few criminals in the population. “The move is targeted at monitoring the owners of Britain’s estimated 40m prepaid mobile phones. They can be purchased with cash by customers who do not wish to give their names, addresses or credit card details,” the Times reports. These customers can include privacy-protective law-abiding citizens (journalists, whistleblowers, other innocents) along with criminals. More and more, anonymity is equated with criminality.
Supporters of the program will likely bring out the old standby, “If you don’t have anything to hide, then you won’t be harmed.” But, such reasoning is flawed. In order to prove your innocence, you must agree to be treated as if you were a criminal.
This news comes just a few months after the Interception of Communications Commissioner Sir Paul Kennedy announced a leap in law enforcement requests for communications data. In 2007, “public authorities as a whole, made 519,260 requests for communications data to Communication Service Providers (CSP),” according to the Commissioner’s annual report (pdf).
Such “communications data” include telephone and Internet use records of private individuals. The previous two years averaged less than 350,000 communications data requests.
Another country that tracks mobile phone users is Japan. There, people applying for mobile phone contracts will have their identification confirmed by the police. “If a customer refuses to submit to the policy inquiry, firms will decline a contract, and will contact police if they become suspicious about a customer,” reported the Daily Yomiuri in July.