By Mick Meaney
Jul 8, 2015
The numbers are in. Not only does the British government spy on its citizens, it forces them to foot the bill. It is the taxpayers who bear the costs of the growth of mass surveillance. And the costs are far greater than earlier estimates suggested.
In 2012, official estimates of the costs of growing government surveillance pegged it at £1.8 billion. In fact, the actual cost is nearly ten times higher. According to calculations made by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Marks QC, the actual cost of government surveillance over ten years is £11.1 billion. This amounts to £500 for each household in the UK.
Speaking to Vice, David Mulcahy, a spokesperson for civil liberties campaign group Liberty, said:
“THE COSTS OF INTERCEPTION ARE LARGELY MET BY THE GOVERNMENT, WHO PAY SERVICE PROVIDERS MONEY TO PUT IN PLACE THE TECHNOLOGY AND PROCESSES TO INTERCEPT EMAILS. WE DON’T KNOW THE AMOUNT SPENT BY GOVERNMENT ON THIS, BUT A REPORT REVEALED THAT, IN PRACTICE, IT PAYS FOR 80 PERCENT OF THE CAPITAL COST OF NEW INTERCEPTION CAPABILITIES AND 100 PERCENT OF THE ONGOING OPERATIONAL COSTS.”
Jim Killock from the Open Rights group said:
“SOMEHOW, MASS SURVEILLANCE SEEMS LIKE A GREAT GOVERNMENT HOPE TO DO LAW ENFORCEMENT ON THE CHEAP, AND IT WON’T WORK. IT’S MORE THAN JUST RETENTION; IT WILL BE COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS. ONCE IT’S IN PLACE, IT WILL BE HARD TO STOP INVESTIGATORS ASKING TO USE ‘PREDICTIVE’ PATTERN ANALYSIS, WHICH OPENS UP PROFILING AND CHECKING OF THE WHOLE POPULATION.”
The earlier lower figure did not take into account inflation, VAT and depreciation, and the increase in volume of online communications and data transfer. The lessons from this are sobering. British citizens are essentially paying via taxes for private companies like Microsoft, Vodafone, Twitter and Facebook to spy on their personal communications.
A recently released report by David Anderson, commissioned by the government, calls this surveillance undemocratic and unnecessary. The report recommends replacing the current law with more transparent and proportionate practices, but will most likely be disregarded.
Business professor at Birmingham City University, Mike Jackson, said:
“AS FAR AS I AM AWARE, THERE WAS NO EXPLANATION AT THE TIME AS TO HOW THE FIGURE OF £1.8 BILLION WAS CALCULATED. ESSENTIALLY, THIS WAS VIEWED AS THE AMOUNT INTERNET COMPANIES WOULD NEED TO BE COMPENSATED OVER 10 YEARS FOR THE ADDITIONAL EFFORT OF STORING RECORDS.
“A RISE IN THE COST OF ACCESSING INTERNET AND MOBILE SERVICES HAS TO BE THE [ULTIMATE] OUTCOME. RATHER THAN RAISING DIRECT TAXES TO PAY FOR THE DEFENCE OF THE REALM, THE GOVERNMENT IS EFFECTIVELY PAYING FOR IT BY INDIRECT TAXATION. WHATEVER THE ACTUAL COSTS, THERE IS AN INEVITABILITY THAT, AT SOME POINT, PROVIDERS WILL BE EXPECTED TO MEET THEM ALONE AND CHARGE THE CONSUMERS AN ADDITIONAL AMOUNT TO MEET THEM.”