“As we lurch from crisis to crisis in public life, you see a ratcheting of state powers,” warns Silkie Carlo, the director of the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch. “And as this goes along with the technological revolution we’re going through, there’s been a massive expansion of the surveillance state.”
Taking its name from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Big Brother Watch (BBW) has been sounding the alarm about increased surveillance in the UK since its foundation in 2009. Now the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the realisation of privacy advocates’ worst nightmares: to combat a health crisis, we have readily handed over our rights to everyday life to the state, which is auctioning them back to us with enhanced tracking systems as the price tag.
This cause has tended to be associated with the libertarian right – as has BBW itself (perhaps unfairly). It was founded by Matthew Elliott, the former chief executive of Vote Leave and the TaxPayers’ Alliance, and was once based at 55 Tufton Street, the home of several right-wing think tanks.