October 7, 2008
Every call you make, every e-mail you send, every website you visit – I’ll be watching you.
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
That is the hope of Sir David Pepper who, as the director of GCHQ, the government’s secret eavesdropping agency in Cheltenham, is plotting the biggest surveillance system ever created in Britain.
From his office in the agency’s famous “doughnut” building, Pepper is masterminding an innocent-sounding project called the Interception Modernisation Programme.
The scope of the project – classified top secret – is said by officials to be so vast that it will dwarf the estimated £5 billion ministers have set aside for the identity cards programme. It is intended to fight terrorism and crime. Civil liberties groups, however, say it poses an unprecedented intrusion into ordinary citizens’ lives.
Aimed at placing a “live tap” on every electronic communication in Britain, it will dwarf other “big brother” surveillance projects such as the number plate recognition system and the spread of CCTV.
Pepper and his opposite number at MI6, Sir John Scarlett, are facing opposition from mandarins in the Treasury and Cabinet Office who fear both its cost and ethical implications.
The spy bosses say a central database is essential to “capture” the array of communications between terrorists planning to attack Britain. Draft e-mails, chatroom discussions and internet browsing on encrypted jihadist websites are the preferred forums for Al-Qaeda cells to plan their attacks, they say. However, other officials and many in the business and academic community are wary.
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