Whitehall battle over Big Brother surveillance

About the author
Tom Griffin is a Ph.D researcher at the University of Bath and a freelance writer. He is a former Executive Editor of the Irish World.

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The security services are pushing for a massive expansion of electronic surveillance in the UK, in the face of opposition from the Treasury and the Cabinet Office, according to the Sunday Times:

The scope of the project - classified top secret - is said by officials to be so vast that it will dwarf the estimated £5 billion ministers have set aside for the identity cards programme. It is intended to fight terrorism and crime. Civil liberties groups, however, say it poses an unprecedented intrusion into ordinary citizens’ lives.

Aimed at placing a “live tap” on every electronic communication in Britain, it will dwarf other “big brother” surveillance projects such as the number plate recognition system and the spread of CCTV.

Pepper and his opposite number at MI6, Sir John Scarlett, are facing opposition from mandarins in the Treasury and Cabinet Office who fear both its cost and ethical implications. 

In today's Daily Mail, Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve warns that "Any suggestion of the Government using existing powers to intercept communications data without public discussion is going to sound extremely sinister."

It will be interesting to see how much of the innocuously-named Interception Modernisation Programme makes into the forthcoming Communications Data Bill, not least in the light of last month's prediction by The Register:

It will not overtly mandate a government-contolled universal database of electronic communications. But sources said the mandarins behind the "Interception Modernisation Programme" (IMP) are determined to go ahead despite concerns about its public spending and ethical implications from departments including the Treasury and Cabinet Office.

Spending would be allocated under the secret budgets that provide funding for the intelligence services.