The COVID-19 pandemic has raised serious concerns around government surveillance of citizens, politicians, and journalists in the United Kingdom. In what appears to be a chilling violation of civil liberties, reports have come to light that the U.K. government has been keeping tabs on the activities of journalists and political opponents, in order to suppress dissent and muzzle criticism of the government’s response to the crisis.
According to a recent investigation by Big Brother Watch UK, the government has been monitoring journalists and politicians who have been critical of the government’s response during the pandemic.
The probe revealed that the government had requested access to the email accounts of at least two journalists, and was conducting surveillance on the phones of political opponents of the government.
The Daily Mail, sharing Big Brother Watch's report, notes that a “shadowy” military unit “compiled dossiers on public figures such as ex-Minister David Davis, who questioned the modelling behind alarming death toll predictions, as well as journalists such as Peter Hitchens and Toby Young.”
The leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, was also among those targeted, along with Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, for comments critical of tiered regulations and regional lockdowns, Reclaim the Net reports.
The outlet also shared screenshots from the dossier with the apparently surveillance-worthy comments and actions.
The secretive 77th Brigade “strayed far beyond its remit of targeting foreign powers,” the Mail reported, after having spoken to a whistleblower inside unit.
“I developed the impression the government were more interested in protecting the success of their policies than uncovering any potential foreign interference, and I regret that I was a part of it. Frankly, the work I was doing should never have happened,” the source told the outlet.
The revelations raise serious concerns about the extent the UK government is willing to go to in an effort to influence public opinion. As the report outlines, the number of government officials involved was extensive.
“This is an alarming case of mission creep, where public money and even military power have been misused to monitor academics, journalists, campaigners and members of parliament who criticized the government, particularly during the pandemic,” said Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo.