Leading article: Is something bugging you?

Share
Related Topics

A much-needed public debate about covert surveillance has begun, thanks to the allegation that counter-terrorism police officers secretly recorded discussions between the Tooting MP, Sadiq Khan, and a constituent, Babar Ahmad. Mr Khan was visiting Mr Ahmad in Woodhill Prison in Milton Keynes, where his constituent is awaiting extradition to the US on charges of supporting terrorism. If their conversation was recorded, this was a breach of the so-called "Wilson Doctrine" which forbids the secret surveillance of MPs without explicit ministerial approval.

So was it a cock-up or a conspiracy? The decision was apparently taken by a Thames Valley Police officer. It is unclear at what level it was authorised. It is also unclear whether the police knew it was not permitted to bug an MP. The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, has promised a swift inquiry into the affair and has pledged to root out any abuses.

It is reasonable for MPs to expect confidentiality when dealing with constituents, in the same way that doctors, lawyers and priests require an understanding of privacy to perform their jobs properly. Without an understanding of confidentiality, why would constituents with a sensitive problem approach their political representative?

But this is not a matter that concerns only the privacy of MPs. The Interception Communications Commissioner, Sir Paul Kennedy, highlighted how state surveillance has become routine in Britain when he reported last week that more than 250,000 requests for private communications were made in 2006. The Home Office also issued 1,333 warrants to authorise bugging operations in that time.

And eavesdropping is no longer just carried out by GCHQ and MI5. As this case shows, the police are bugging too. And a far wider pool of public institutions now has access to our communications records. Almost 800 public bodies, from Revenue and Customs to the Food Standards Agency, are now permitted to request communication intercepts, as well as emails, records of telephone calls and post.

Secret surveillance is obviously necessary in counter-terrorism and organised crime operations. Indeed, there is a powerful argument for surveillance transcripts to be made admissible as evidence in court to increase the number of convictions. But the proliferation of eavesdropping and secret information gathering has taken on a sinister momentum of its own. This is part of a trend that has seen Britain acquire more CCTV cameras than anywhere in the world and brought us the prospect of biometric ID cards. If anything good can come out of this row, it will be that we wake up to the casual and dangerous erosion of our privacy.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: a duchess by any other name is just wrong

Guy Keleny
A teenage girl uses her smartphone in bed.  

Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb

Janet Street-Porter
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor