UK Sleepwalking Into a Surveillance State?

The UK's Interception of Communications Commissioner Sir Paul Kennedy wrote in his annual report to Parliament that public bodies made 504,073 requests to access private emails and telephone records in the UK last year. That amounts to about 1,500 surveillance requests made by government authorities each day, or in different terms, one request for every 78 UK residents. Some 1,553 demands for communications data were made by 123 local authorities, although why was not explained in any detail by Sir Kennedy.

According a Reuters story, each surveillance request allows the police, councils and the intelligence services to access data -- which includes telephone records, email and text message traffic -- but not the actual content of conversations or messages.

Reuters quotes a Home Office official as saying:

"It doesn't allow you to see the content of the message or conversation. It's about the who, where and when -- the time element essentially in directed surveillance."

The number of requests was marginally down from last year (519,260 times) but was still well over 40% higher than in 2006.

The Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said in the Reuters story that the UK appeared to have

"sleepwalked into a surveillance state."

The former head of the the spy agency MI5, Dame Stella Rimington, earlier this year accused the UK government of pushing the country towards a police state as well.

Spokesman Hume said also that it was unbelievable that the government needs to spy on half a million people a year. Seems a bit excessive to me as well.

"The government forgets that George Orwell's 1984 was a warning and not a blueprint,"

Hume was also quoted as saying.

Well said.

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