In an investigative piece, The Observer reported that numerous UK government agencies are scrutinizing social media to create “secret files” on critics, a move that could potentially bar them from participating in official events. The investigation revealed that at least 15 departments, including those responsible for culture, health, and sports, have been directed to closely monitor platforms like Facebook and Twitter for government dissenters.
Officials have been compiling extensive profiles on individuals who express disapproval of government actions or the Prime Minister by searching for their names alongside critical comments. These secret dossiers are reportedly intended to influence decisions on who can be invited to speak at government-hosted events.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) explicitly advised compiling significant information on critics, spanning the last three to five years, and maintaining these records for future use. Similarly, the Department for Education cautioned against involving individuals in events if they had shown disapproval of its policies or supported unfavorable social media commentary.
Legal action is now being pursued by Leigh Day law firm, representing two professionals affected by these surveillance practices. Tessa Gregory, a partner at the firm, denounced the covert monitoring as a breach of data protection and potentially a violation of human rights laws, labeling such practices as perilously invasive.
Dan Kaszeta, a chemical weapons specialist and one of the individuals legally challenging the government after being excluded from a defense conference, disclosed that numerous experts have been barred from government events due to their online political expressions. He expressed alarm over the widespread and possibly underestimated scope of this issue.
In response to these revelations, the Cabinet Office initiated a review, leading to the suspension of social media surveillance by the implicated departments. A Cabinet Office spokesperson emphasized the need for civil service events to maintain impartiality and assured a review of the guidelines to prevent misinterpretation.
This incident follows previous instances where UK government bodies engaged with tech companies to control the narrative during the COVID-19 pandemic and used military units like the 77 Brigade to track lockdown critics, raising serious concerns about state surveillance and the suppression of free speech.