UnHerd – UK Government pushes for financial surveillance bill

Big Brother Watch Team / March 19, 2024

Since the inception of the internet, technological advances intended to benefit mankind have been turned on the population in order to benefit the state. In recent years, investigatory powers laws have sanctioned the state to collect information about us in bulk, retain our internet connection records and intercept our personal messages, all through digital proxies. Now, this concept of the corporate actor being used as an arm of the state for the purposes of surveillance is being extended to the financial sphere.

Tomorrow, a bill is returning to the House of Lords which could grant the Government extraordinary new financial surveillance powers. Amendments to the largely under-scrutinised Data Protection and Digital Information Bill were announced in November of last year, giving banks powers to monitor the accounts of private citizens under the premise of searching for fraud and error in the welfare system. Banks would then be compelled to flag individuals who meet unspecified criteria to the Government. Given the outrageous scale of the proposals, there is good reason why Conservative legislators would hope that they might fall under the radar.

Tackling fraud and welfare fraud is a legitimate aim, yet the Government has measures at its disposal to combat this problem at a targeted level, based on suspicion under existing powers. These proposals perpetuate what is becoming a growing trend when it comes to surveillance powers — that the state sees compromising the privacy of millions of innocent people as a legitimate means to an end, only this time the end is not combating terrorism but the maladministration of benefits.

Meanwhile, reversing the presumption of innocence — the democratic principle that you shouldn’t be spied on unless the authorities suspect you of wrongdoing — sets a deeply damaging precedent. Yet by the Government’s own account, these powers would only recoup around 3% of all fraud in the welfare system, making the population-wide financial intrusion entirely disproportionate to the problem it sets out to solve.

The net is cast wide and the guardrails are non-existent. It is hard to see that the banks would be happy with their newly appointed responsibility as the state’s own financial spies and yet the Government presses on. Saddled with this new responsibility, banks will be forced to use automated systems to carry out a surveillance which brings problems of its own. If scanning over 20 million bank accounts, even a remarkably low error rate of 1% would lead to 200,000 people’s accounts being wrongly flagged to the Department for Work and Pensions. Perhaps no lessons have been learnt from the Horizon scandal.

Within the context of CBDCs, “debanking” and financial censorship, it is clear that the next frontier in the battle to protect civil liberties will be monetary. In the coming weeks, the House of Lords will scrutinise these powers, which MPs were given a chance to look at. Unless our revising chamber steps in, the surveillance ratchet will crank up another notch.

UnHerd – UK Government pushes for financial surveillance bill