That's not hyperbole. The U.K. will soon require government access to every phone call, text message, e-mail and website visit:
All telecoms companies and internet service providers will be required by law to keep a record of every customer’s personal communications, showing who they have contacted, when and where, as well as the websites they have visited.
Despite widespread opposition to the increasing amount of surveillance in Britain, 653 public bodies will be given access to the information, including police, local councils, the Financial Services Authority, the ambulance service, fire authorities and even prison governors.
They will not require the permission of a judge or a magistrate to obtain the information, but simply the authorisation of a senior police officer or the equivalent of a deputy head of department at a local authority.
Ministers had originally wanted to store the information on a single government-run database, but chose not to because of privacy concerns.
That last paragraph really got me groaning. THe only thing worse than a horrifically intrusive spy system is an easily corruptible horrifically intrusive spy system. This won't even require malfeasance at the highest levels of government; any vengeful or corrupt official can quickly get a citizen's personal information.
Keep in mind that the Daily Telegraph, in British politics, skews right-wing, but this is still pretty damn disturbing. Pair this news with the gag order on the Guardian, where a single judge, trying to prevent news of a company's role in dumping toxic waste from leaking, stopped one of the country's most venerable newspapers from even reporting on parliament, and a troubling trend emerges.
That path is to a state where countless bureaucrats can call up personal information at any time and pass it on. This can occur if the target is a dissident, if the official has a grudge or if they've simply been bribed. On top of that, the press' ability to report on such activities, or any malfeasance by power, is sharply reduced. In the Guardian case, the side of freedom won. What about next time?
So why does this matter to the rest of us?
Because the U.K. is not China: a highly oligarchical state trying to maintain its grip on power while reaping the benefits of modernization. Despite its fight with terrorism, Britain is facing no existential threats or massive wars. There is a lack of the normal factors that lead a population to call for this kind of draconian surveillance.
This is a democratic country with a vigorous press and a long tradition of civil liberties. If a technocratic police state can evolve there, it can happen anywhere, and will.