Britain Considers Tapping Citizens' Emails and Phones

By October 10, 2008

The British government is considering a £12 billion ($20 billion) database to monitor and store Internet records, e-mails, and phone records, according to an article in Britain’s Sunday Times. This would be the biggest surveillance system ever created in Britain – possibly the West – reports the Times. The measure, headed by the GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters – Britain’s eavesdropping agency) would put a “live tap” on every electronic communication device in Britain. The network is envisioned as a way to monitor terrorist activity, but will also be used to monitor other criminal behavior as well.

This is the lastest in the country's increasingly Foucauldian measures. In August, Britain passed a measure to give government agencies and health authorities authorization to access and store email and online activity to monitor “criminal activity, public health, threats to public safety and even prevention of self-harm.” Britain already has one of the world’s largest video surveillance systems in the world, with cameras everywhere from garbage cans to bathrooms. 

British laws are looser than American when it comes to government access of personal communications. In the U.S., this requires a court order, but in Britain it only requires the authorization of a senior official. Last year, the British government made 520,000 requests to Internet and telecommunication providers to intercept communications.

There are rumors that these measures have all been secretely funded by the estate of George Orwell.

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