The Costs of the Surveillance State
How much does surveillance cost? It is a key question which is very difficult to answer with any precision. The groups associated with the Convention on Modern Liberty (mainly Liberty, No2ID and Privacy International) have come up an estimate of £34 Billion (about $50Bn US) for the UK. This seems to be mainly costs related to central government databases, and includes £10Bn for the setting up and running of the proposed new communications database. Is it correct? Or even close? Well, it’s a good start as a guess. It doesn’t of course differentiate between costs for aspects of the systems that might be desirable or even necessary (like parts of the NHS Spine system). But then I’ve had this argument with No2ID before – the don’t get the idea that ‘surveillance’ includes things that without which there would be no welfare, education or health services at all. It is worth thinking about it from the other way, from the supply side too – the question of what is the overall size of the surveillance industry. Because of course, it isn’t just government that is spying on us. The biggest databases are run by private corporations (especially retailers, insurance companies and loyalty-card operators)… there are all sorts of private security and surveillance operations. £34Bn is probably a small proportion of this wider surveillance economy, and may not even be anywhere near the total ‘cost’ to citizens of the obsession with surveillance.