Privacy and the state


David Goodhart's article in the Sunday Times makes me want to throw up. His basic argument is: Let's face it, we don't live in a police state – this isn't Nazi Germany or Stalin's USSR, you know – and giving up a bit of your privacy in return for all the benefits that the state provides you isn't so terrible.

Yeah, right. Well, in the first place, I don't actually want to be part of this 'privacy for state services' exchange. The TV Licensing bunch advertise brazenly that our details are 'all in the database'. Oh, great, so I'm giving them all my details for the privilege of paying £142.50 per year to the government so I can watch the State Broadcaster? They should be paying me. Sure, I hand over my address and my cash to Sky, but I had a choice about that. If I want to watch Sky, or any non- BBC broadcaster, I still have to pay and hand over my info, whether I want Auntie's pompous, skewed, dumbed-down 'news' and 'entertainment' or not.

And there are plenty of other bits of the state services 'bargain' that I'd prefer to opt out of, and keep my privacy. Like the local authority which now only collects my rubbish every two weeks, and if I sort it into some arcane categories. Frankly, I'd prefer to hire a private firm. But of course I'd get thrown in jail if I refused to pay the state for its 'services'. As a liberal, I believe people should have choices, and that sort of coercion sickens me. I have the choice of telling Sky to get stuffed, I'm not going to give them my address and bank details. I can't do that with the BBC or my council refuse department.

Meanwhile, under a new EU ruling (which the UK supported and promoted, of course) internet carriers now have to keep all our emails and internet visits in case the authorities demand them. And, of course, they will. They just have to run a search program on our data log and it's an easy cop. They won't be able to resist. They'll pick you up for dropping an apple core, and – just in case this is a sign of much more malicious intent – take a fishing trip through your electronic records. That's the sort of 'privacy must be sacrificed for utility' arrangement I find terrifying.

Eamonn Butler's latest book, The Rotten State of Britain, is available to buy here.