Government Spent Millions Spying on Lockdown Sceptics

The Mail on Sunday previewed some of the excesses of the government’s efforts to combat disinformation contained in a report from Big Brother Watch. They even called in the military.

The revelations shed light on the state’s free speech interventions – including the Army’s shadowy 77th Brigade, tasked with combatting disinformation. Instead of focussing on propaganda coming from Russia or China, the government kept tabs on its critics and those sceptical of lockdowns. David Davis, Peter Hitchens and Julia Hartley-Brewer were amongst those monitored – hardly pressing threats to national security.

A whistleblower from the 77th Brigade quoted in the report added:

“It was about domestic perception, not national security. By being so fixed on the wrong targets, 77x became more akin to a tool for bad information than an antidote to it… It seemed to me that the government geared the counter-disinformation operation not to serving and protecting citizens, but to serving their own careers and influence.”

Peter Hitchens had warned about censorship of his online content. It seems he may have had a point…

There are at least four further Whitehall arms dedicated to social media monitoring:

  • The Cabinet Office’s Rapid Response Unit (RRU) – for tackling ‘harmful narratives’ during the pandemic.
  • The Counter Disinformation Unit (CDU) in DCMS – responsible for flagging disinformation to social media giants. Big Brother Watch adds they deploy a “very loose” use of the term.
  • The Government Information Cell (GIC) in the FCDO – established in response to Russian disinformation in the UK and abroad.
  • The Intelligence and Communications Unit (RICU) in the Home Office – pushes official lines to support counter-extremism.

All of this state social media spying doesn’t come cheap. Big Brother Watch identified £2.3 million in contracts for the CDU, £2.5 million in contracts and £1.3 million in staffing for the RRU and an annual budget of over £6 million for the Intelligence and Communications Unit. This doesn’t include a staggering £65,000,000 in RICU contracts for social media monitoring and PR campaigns…

The full report is available here. Co-conspirators can also find out if they’re being spied on using this handy template.

mdi-timer 30 January 2023 @ 14:00 30 Jan 2023 @ 14:00 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Corbyn & Davis Join Up to Fight For Free Speech

An unlikely coalition has formed between hardline Tory David Davis and Comrade Corbyn. Both have launched a push to defend freedom of speech in the wake of the obviously wrong arrests of republic protesters over the course of this week. Two days ago, Davis wrote to the Chief Constable of Police Scotland “expressing my concern that an anti-monarchy protestor has been charged by police.” Since he wrote that letter, a second protester has been charged outside the gates of Westminster.

Jeremy Corbyn, who also tweeted that “the arrest of republican protestors is wrong, anti-democratic and an abuse of the law”, provided surprise cross-party backing to long-time freedom fighter Davis, congratulating him on his message:

Corbyn, Davis, most of the Socialist Campaign Group, Guido and the Free Speech Union – Theresa’s coalition of chaos has finally come to fruition…

mdi-timer 14 September 2022 @ 13:01 14 Sep 2022 @ 13:01 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Davis Laughs at Rich Candidates’ Claims About Poverty-Ridden Backgrounds
mdi-timer 10 July 2022 @ 10:19 10 Jul 2022 @ 10:19 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
David Davis Tossing Up Shapps, Hunt and Truss
mdi-timer 10 July 2022 @ 10:16 10 Jul 2022 @ 10:16 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Lord Frost Takes Fight to Online Harms Bill, as Cost Balloons by £400 Million

Today Lord Frost joins Guido in the fight against the Online Harms Bill, launching an all-out assault on its threat to free speech. Frost’s no holds barred attack, including calling the bill “fundamentally flawed” and un-conservative, has been published alongside a new paper by the IEA, which accuses the bill of handing “unprecedented censorship powers to Secretary of State and Ofcom”. Objectively correct.

In full, Frost says:

“There is so much wrong with this Bill that it is hard to know where to start, but the report rightly highlights the fact that it will mean some speech that is legal offline will effectively be impossible online. That makes no sense and will be highly damaging to public debate, especially given the weakness of the free speech protections in the Bill.

Overall the Bill also panders to the view of the perennially offended – those who think the Government should protect them from ever encountering anything they disagree with.  A Conservative Government should not be putting this view into law.

“The best thing the Government could do would be to slim down the Bill so they can proceed rapidly with the genuinely uncontroversial aspects, and consign the rest where it belongs – the waste paper basket.”

Reading through the IEA’s paper, one thing that immediately jumps out to Guido is that the government’s own expected cost of the bill has jumped up from £2.1 billion in May 2021 to £2.5 billion today – a whole £400 million extra in a year. A figure the IEA rubbishes as a nonsense underestimation anyway:

“The impact assessment asserts that it will cost businesses, on average, £700 over ten years to read and understand the regulations, for example. However, this would not realistically cover the fees of a specialist law firm for two hours, let alone the internal staff time costs. The impact assessment specifically assumes staff will only require 30 minutes to familiarise themselves with the requirements of the 255-page legislation and 90 minutes to read, assess and change terms and conditions in response to the requirements. Legal advice is estimated to cost £39.23 per hour  an order of magnitude less than the fees of hundreds of pounds per hour typically charged by lawyers in this field.”

Turning to the inclusion of ‘legal but harmful’ speech, which platforms will have to crack down on, huge questions remain on specifics given the government has still not formally specified categories this will include. While the obvious woke labels of ‘misogynistic abuse’ will likely be included, shadow DCMS secretary Lucy Powell has already let the mask slip on the future plans of Labour ministers to massively abuse this power:

“Lucy Powell has raised concerns that the Bill as it stands would allow ‘incels’ and ‘climate deniers’ to ‘slip through the net’. She clearly envisages an extension of the notion of ‘harmful’ to cover matters of public policy debate.”

David Davis also pitches in, warning “could end up being one of the most significant accidental infringements on free speech in modern times.” Guido can’t understand why Nadine believes this won’t backfire on Conservatives like her. Big Brother Watch already proved that her “nail your balls to the floor” tweet, if posted to Facebook, results in the post being deleted by the platform. That’s before her new free speech clamp down comes into force…

Guido encourages all policymakers to read the paper – embedded below. If the government wants to get the Boris show back on the road, and reassure Tory members and MPs that this government is worth fighting for – while saving at least £2.5 billion – scrapping swathes of this big-state bill could not be a more obvious starting point…

Read More

mdi-timer 27 June 2022 @ 11:45 27 Jun 2022 @ 11:45 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
David Davis on Migrant Overseas Processing

The fallout from last week’s Rwanda announcement continues into this week, with a couple of eyebrow-raising interventions in the papers. A letter in The Times from one of Sir Keir’s Doughty Street chums, James Wood QC, claims to have come up with a new migrant strategy for the Home Office. He writes:

“Sir, One solution to tackle trafficking would be to have undercover officers in Calais pretending to be seeking to travel across the Channel. The tactic is frequently deployed in the fight against drugs and is known as a “test purchase”. Perhaps Priti Patel could try that before wasting taxpayers’ money on outsourcing detention contracts to Rwandan businessmen.”

Wood’s solution of undeclared operations in an allied country – something that is implied to be completely novel and not already carried out by French police – has been met with derision in Whitehall. Genius…

In other fall-out, David Davis takes to the Times Red Box this morning calling the plan an “abuse” of “hard-won Brexit freedoms”:

“But the plan is fraught with practical problems, beset by moral dilemmas and hamstrung by extortionate costs. And outsourcing our international obligations are certainly not the freedoms that Brexit was about winning.”

One co-conspirator with a keen memory, however, refers Guido back to David Davis’s 2004 Tory conference speech, when the then-Shadow Home Secretary called for the next Conservative government to, “push ahead with reforms to our asylum system, with a system of overseas processing.” Awkward…

mdi-timer 19 April 2022 @ 12:43 19 Apr 2022 @ 12:43 mdi-twitter mdi-facebook mdi-whatsapp mdi-telegram mdi-linkedin mdi-email mdi-comment View Comments
Previous Page Next Page