From the Guardian:
Everyone who buys a mobile telephone [in the UK] will be forced to register their identity on a national database under government plans to extend massively the powers of state surveillance.
Phone buyers would have to present a passport or other official form of identification at the point of purchase. Privacy campaigners fear it marks the latest government move to create a surveillance society.
It’s one thing for the government to monitor telephone conversations with a warrant from a judge. It’s quite another thing entirely to monitor calls without a warrant. It’s something new and exceptionally repulsive for the government to force citizens to comply with the monitoring of themselves.
Even more troubling is one of the comments on the article:
Fantastic idea. Better still, fingerprints should also be taken. Criminals will use false ID to get round the new legislation so the more we can do to slowdown or halt their movements the better. Most of us have nothing to hide and plenty to fear in terms of terrorism and everyday criminal behaviour.
You want to force people to provide their fingerprints in order to purchase a telephone? Are you serious? If so, I’m terribly frightened. What amounts to an effective prohibition on guns hasn’t had any real effect on violent crime, as criminals break the law. Same thing with drugs. Do you really think that criminals and terrorists will be the least bit inconvenienced by a requirement to provide ID (or even fingerprints) before purchasing a phone new? I sincerely hope not. What next, straw purchases of cell phones?
The United Kingdom is, in theory, a free country. Why, then, is the idea of a huge government database of mobile phone users being considered? Why aren’t the proposals to have the government keep records of all calls, emails, and other communications for years being met with riots in the streets? Why is the widespread surveillance of the citizenry by ubiquitous CCTV cameras not met with public outcry?
People in a free country have the right to free speech and privacy. Arbitrary invasions of privacy restrict, by extension, the right to free speech; they exert a chilling effect on any number of topics that might otherwise be spoken about in private: politics, sex and relationships, financial issues, etc. Completely innocent phrases could be easily taken out of context and portrayed in a negative way.
The rights to free speech and privacy imply a right to anonymous speech. If an individual wishes to speak privately by means of an anonymous cell phone, they should not be restricted from doing so. If they are suspected of committing or conspiring to commit crimes, then by all means seek a warrant on the telephone in question, monitor their location, etc. Warrants require judicial oversight so as to prevent abuse. Such oversight is a Good Thing.
The UK is filled with wonderful people with a long and storied history, and good beer. But their nation is teetering on the very edge of becoming a police state, and watching this happen to such good people is highly troubling to me. While the situation in the US is troubling (Patriot Act and whatnot), it’s not anywhere near as far along as it is in the UK and there are a number of groups and individuals (myself included) who are doing what we can to stop things here from getting to be like they are over there.
If there are any UK-based readers who are concerned about their privacy and are looking for secure means of browsing the web, sending and receiving email, telephone calls, etc., please feel free to contact me by email and I’d be glad to provide some suggestions.