Government plans for a single, massive database containing records of all public internet activity, e-mails and phone calls, reported in the Times, are alarming. This system will be massively vulnerable to abuse and would allow Government officials to snoop, far too easily, on ordinary people. It is also likely to prove exceptionally expensive.
Holding the information in place will always make it easier for a system to be abused. Anyone looking to gain access to people's very personal phonecalls, e-mail or internet records will only need to gain access to, and then search, one system instead of many. The increased convenience to the unscrupulous will be of a greater magnitude than the improvement for those meant to be in the system, who don't need to crack into each database. Government claims that it will be secure are hardly credible after endless lapses in recent years.
Beyond that, government agencies have a track record of creating powers supposedly needed to tackle serious crime and then allowing them to be used to snoop on ordinary people, for extended periods, for inadequate reasons. Tim Aker, our grassroots co-ordinator, provided one example:
"The Regulation of Investigative Powers Act 2000 was introduced on the grounds that it would boost national security. Poole Council, being a creative sort, went well over their remit by using the powers to snoop on families. They monitored this unnamed family for three weeks, with intentions to stop them sending their children to a good school if they lived outside the catchment area."
You should fear the invasions of privacy this measure will facilitate even if you haven't done anything wrong and don't think that the Ed Balls is going to develop a penchant for the goose step any time soon. After all, it's all in the database:
Finally, this is almost certain to be wildly expensive. If you look through the projects listed in our report (PDF) on big government project overruns you'll see that many of the most troublesome, like the NHS National Programme for IT, are those that try to stitch together a lot of incompatible IT schemes. It tends to become a very complex and lengthy process as so many different organisations need to contribute. The Internet Service Providers and other companies involved have not created these systems with combining them in mind. There is every possibility this will become a wildly expensive project.
This new database will be vulnerable to abuse, encourage and enable snooping by officials and is quite likely to cost us a fortune. It should be abandoned.