The UK’s intelligence agencies are collecting data on the movement of people to provide the government with insights on whether they are complying with the lockdown. The minute-by-minute accurate data analysis has helped the government make decisions regarding the pandemic and such state-run mass surveillance has wide-reaching privacy implications at a time when civil liberties are at threat.
The Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) analysts, now working in the Cabinet Office in Downing Street, are going through droves of data to provide the Boris Johnson administration minute-by-minute reports on the behavior of citizens.
Aside from people’s movements, the analysts are also looking at job and vacation destination searches. The idea is supposedly to help the government make decisions regarding the pandemic, such as whether to enforce a national lockdown past December 2 and gives an insight into the amount of data that GCHQ has access to.
It was revealed that the GCHQ was helping with the pandemic response a few months ago.
“I’m blessed with nearly 10,000 people in GCHQ, many of them with very strong technical backgrounds,” GCHQ director Jeremy Fleming said at the time. “They have a role to play more broadly in projecting our data science skills and our technology skills, including across government, where it’s required. So, we’ve leaned in to help on that.”
According to a report in The Telegraph, the GCHQ data analysis has already helped the government key decisions. The work has helped sift through a big volume of data and filter the data Johnson needs to make lockdown decisions.
For example, by monitoring people’s online job searches, the government can see the impact the pandemic has had on employment. Apparently, the GCHQ can provide reports faster than the National Statistics Office as it has much more access to data and browsing habits of UK citizens.
The GCHQ is also controversially rising to the occasion with the pandemic response in other ways. Reports from earlier this month claimed that the agency had been tasked with curbing the vaccine skeptic content spreading on social media.
“GCHQ has been told to take out anti-vaxxers online and on social media. There are ways they have used to monitor and disrupt terrorist propaganda,” someone close to the issue told the Times.