Before the general election, the prime minister had this to say about Labour’s surveillance excesses:
“If we want to stop the state controlling us, we must confront this surveillance state.”
He was absolutely right.
Sadly, the home secretary has today jumped to brand opponents of her scheme "conspiracy theorists". Rather than respond to what is, frankly, a cheap insult, I’d rather discuss the actual policy being proposed, something the Home Office don’t seem too keen on.
We’ve seen the inevitable bluster about paedophiles and terrorists, which will be familiar to anyone who watched as Labour tried to ram through 90-day detention without charge, ID cards and, indeed, their own internet spying proposals.
And while I’m on that topic, let me address one of the Home Office’s current claims – that this is somehow different to Labour’s plans. True, there is no central database – but the data being collected is exactly the same.
The Home Office also rushed out an announcement yesterday that local councils would not be able to access the data. Welcome, yes, but a pretty lame compromise when you consider it affects less than 1% of the 2.5m+ communications data requests made since 2005.
Does the internet pose new challenges? Yes. But then again, the police and security services already have the power to read your emails, tap your phone, plant hidden cameras and microphones in your house and intercept your internet use. All without ever having to go before a judge.
So it’s wholly wrong to claim the police don’t enough have enough powers.
Equally, as has already been highlighted by experts at the LSE, Cambridge Computer Lab and Oxford Internet Institute, the technical feasibility of this is far from clear (hardly a surprise given the public sector’s record on big IT schemes). The Home Office have yet failed to address any of their concerns.
Ultimately, this policy goes against the coalition agreement, against Conservative pre-election policy and is fundamentally an illiberal, intrusive scheme that will do little to improve national security and do everything to turn us into a nation of suspects.
So, the home secretary should be careful about branding those who think the surveillance state has gone too far as conspiracy theorists – or perhaps she was talking about the prime minister?
Nick Pickles is director of Big Brother Watch