What if your boss could check your internet browsing history? 

What if your boss could check your internet browsing history?

What if you became a criminal just because you attended a rock concert?

And what if a supermarket knew you were pregnant before you did (actually a true story)? And they could sell that information on?

Most people don’t know that all three things are entirely possible thanks to the Conservative’s Snoopers Charter, the SNP’s use of facial recognition software and the power of supermarkets to track your changing shopping habits against your personal data.

Next May, the Police & Crime Commissioner elections will take place in England & Wales, on the same day as devolved elections. As Antony Hook notes, the entire United Kingdom will vote and as the first national election since the General Election it will be seen as a test of all parties one year into the new parliament.

The Commissioner sets policing strategy and holds chief officers to account.  This includes how the force is:

  • Using surveillance and undercover officers;
  • Policing protests and demonstrations;
  • Ensuring that citizens from minority groups are treated fairly;
  • Deciding which types of offence to prioritise resources on.

We have the opportunity as Liberal Democrats to take a distinct approach from all the other parties.

The Conservatives, Labour and the SNP will battle it out to see who takes the toughest stance on law and order, inevitably demanding even greater surveillance powers to keep us safe from criminals.

It falls to us – as liberals – to warn of the dangerous excesses of the state, to warn that we are ‘sleep-walking into 1984’.

It’s liberals vs authoritarians.

We must fight the next national election on our turf – the Police and Crime Commissioner elections are about the fight for personal Liberty.

This is our election and we must define it on our terms now.


* Daisy Cooper is the Liberal Democrat MP for St Albans.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Eddie Sammon 4th Aug '15 - 11:05am

    These are good concerns, so why not argue for an amendment rather than complete opposition?

  • Simon Gilbert 4th Aug '15 - 11:25am

    This is a highly important area for Lib Dems to lead on. They are the only Liberal voice in mainstream poltics on these issues.

    The principle that governments need to try harder than total surveillance should be pushed, and that surveillance with due cause on individuals (ie do some actual intelligence work) is different from spying on everyone, just in case ‘because terrorism’.

  • John Tilley 4th Aug '15 - 11:56am

    Can anyone confirm that The Met has been using facial recognition software for 15 years or more?
    I think I have a vague memory of this being introduced a long time ago.

    Thanks to Daisy for looking at these elections from a sensible standpoint. I do however agree with those who have called for a one-line policy of ” Scrap Police Commissioner elections”.

    Here in London we do not have such an election we just get to vote for the post which since it has been occupied by The Bullingdon’s publicity-shy Boris Johnson would more correctly be described as London’s Chief Buffoon.

  • Dasiy

    “What if your boss could check your internet browsing history?”

    They would see far too much LDV.

    “what if a supermarket knew you were pregnant before you did (actually a true story)?”

    Are we talking access to some medical data confirming it, or are we talking having noticed changes in behaviour indicating it?

    “the power of supermarkets to track your changing shopping habits against your personal data.”

    This one is not a concern to me or many people I know, it is a transaction we engage in voluntarily, signing up for loyalty cards etc. It is something that can be avoided if you want, which the government enforced examples can’t be.

    “•Ensuring that citizens from minority groups are treated fairly;”

    I would hope they will be ensuring all citizens are treated fairly. Citizens from minority groups should not be disadvantaged by that fact but liberals should be believe everyone should be treated fairly not engage in silly identity politics.


    “These are good concerns, so why not argue for an amendment rather than complete opposition?”

    Assuming you are talking about the Snoopers Charter? I’m normally positive about incrementalism but no matter how much you polish a turd, it doesn’t change its nature.

  • Simon McGrath 4th Aug '15 - 2:44pm

    Can you please explain how someone will become a criminal for attending a rock concert?

    Or how the Snoopers Charter will enable your boss to check your browsing history ?

  • Richard Underhill 4th Aug '15 - 3:14pm

    or they could look at what you said on facebook.

  • Richard Underhill 4th Aug '15 - 4:39pm

    Ian Eiloart 4th Aug ’15 – 3:58pm Facebook tels its advertisers about weddings, but do they mean precisely that?

  • Simon Banks 5th Aug '15 - 10:48am

    John – I don’t think the issue is use of work computers or work time. I can’t see any objection to employers policing these issues, though as with use of work phones commonsense should rule. I think the issue is whether questions of personal beliefs, sexual interests or spare-time political activism should concern an employer if they aren’t relevant to work performance. Like others, I’d want a bit more explanation of how the Snoopers’ Charter would affect these things and there are already cases of people suffering for what they put on Facebook or Twitter that should have no implications for how they do their jobs.

  • This article is full of insinuation, yet profoundly lacking in information. Calling it the Snoopers Charter doesn’t help us, it just make it seem as if we’re weak on matters of national security. If you’re at work you’re probably on a company computer, not your own – I don’t see that you own that browsing history. Tell us exactly what you don’t like in the legislation and exemplify real-world situations to illustrate your point. A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse, but I’d prefer articles to be a little more literal. 🙂

  • My employment contract for the past 15 years has made it clear that my internet use on work machines can be monitored. It also expressly forbids participating in any kind of on-line political debate – hence why I never post to LDV in work hours. Are you suggesting that all this was illegal until Cameron’s snooper’s charter?

  • Richard Underhill 5th Aug '15 - 7:15pm

    Working for a large employer it was obvious that Human Resouces Department could look behind our passwords because of occasional dismissals in the event of sufficiently bad behaviour.

  • Robin Tuppen 6th Aug '15 - 11:24am

    I thought that, when police commissioners were first on the agenda, that the elections for those positions were supposed to be non-political?? Concerning some of the comments above, to be honest, as an employer, I pay my staff to do MY work during the hours thay are paid by me and NOT to play around on MY computer for their personal benefit. If YOU do it then your employer has every right to sack you and, if anyone says different, they are living in cloud cuckoo land or are one of the skivvers doing just what has been mentioned. There is too much emphasise of petty so called rights for people who play around at work instead of doing what they are paid to do. What about the employers’ rights to get value for money out of their staff? No wonder the country has gone to the dogs because, without putting in the effort to work, this country will not recover from the recession. Too many days off for holiday and paternity leave are not helpful to production incrtease and more funds for the country to improve living conditions for everyone. Get real!

  • “I thought that, when police commissioners were first on the agenda, that the elections for those positions were supposed to be non-political??”

    What do you expect when the post became subject to public election? What is a little surprising is how quickly the candidates have become ‘owned’ by the major political parties (ie. within the first term of office for the first commissioners) and how the LibDems (and Labour) seemed to have had a change of policy and are now quite happy to not only have a politicised police force, but to be an active force in that politicisation.

  • Simon Arnold 9th Aug '15 - 12:26am

    This is why, Liberals up and down, the UK, need to stop gettting excited about Corbyn, and get our case across and stop SNP in their tracks, next May. I buy, The National, it’s like a hybrid, part Comic and part, (mostly) propaganda. They seem to enjoy attacking Lib Dems, Rennie and Farron. The SNP are a worrying, illiberal, nasty bunch. We have two sides those at Holyrood and, the Nationalist, that do all the dirty work. That have taken Liberty, locked it away, made the state bigger and bigger. They want a database on us, they want a stranger, to run your family and control, YOUR children. They have failed on everything. Centralisation. Today, I read that they not only want a revised Council Tax, they want a local tax.

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