With the government's poor record on losing data and throwing good money after bad, it came as somewhat of a surprise this morning to learn that the Home Office has funded the first stage of a plan to introduce a new £12 billion scheme to monitor all emails and calls, and, further, to store them all in one place.
Under the scheme, all data would be stored on a central system that would make it easier, in theory, to identify links between terrorist cells. Quite aside from civil liberties issues (which I'll get to shortly), the sheer expense of this project is mind blowing. At a time when all taxpayers are tightening their belts, and when the government is having to pour money into the rescue of major high street banks and mortgage lenders, we can ill afford the amount of cash required for this project. Many councils said last week that, with the rising cost of fuel, they would struggle to pay energy bills this winter and the result may be a rise in council tax - in wake of these pleas of poverty on behalf of an already bloated structure, the government's priority should be trying to cut public spending, not increase it on such a gargantuan project.
Secondly, and potentially more important in the long term, are the large scale disasters that could very well result from this scheme. Last year saw a disasterous series of data losses by the government, security breaches that affected millions of people. To create potential for even greater exposure to these cock ups, at great expense to people already having to tighten their belts just to pay the food bills, seems ludicrous. Further, £1 billion of public money has already gone into funding the first stage of this project, with absolutely no public consultation.
I think I speak for many people when I say that it matters a great deal to me not only how my contribution to the state is spent, but also where copies of my private correspondence, personal details and phone conversations are kept. I'm all for enabling the work of the intelligence services, but one has to ask in this case: whither accountability and whither common sense?