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Prem Sikka: How the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill is the government’s latest erosion of hard-won rights

"George Orwell’s iconic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949, warns of a dystopian world where The Party or the government undermines people’s rights, independence and autonomy through fear and propaganda. Constant surveillance is a key weapon for disciplining people and shaping their minds.**

That world has arrived in the UK, the self-proclaimed mother of parliaments. The new tyranny isn’t ushered in by some communist, socialist or military regime but by a right-wing elected government.

The latest weapon is the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill which puts the bank accounts of 22.4m people under constant surveillance. In true Orwellian doublespeak, the government claims that the Bill allows “the country to realise new post-Brexit freedoms” and links surveillance to people’s fears about frauds.

The Bill uses developments in electronic transactions and artificial intelligence to place the poor, disabled, sick, old and pregnant women under surveillance. It gives Ministers and government agencies powers to direct businesses, particularly banks, and financial institutions, to mass monitor individuals receiving welfare payments, even when there is no suspicion or any sign of fraudulent activity. No court order is needed and affected individuals will not be informed. The Bill enables Ministers to make any further regulations without a vote in parliament.

Currently, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) can request details of bank accounts and transactions on a case-by-case basis on suspicion of fraudulent activity.

The government says the Bill “would allow regular checks to be carried out on the bank accounts held by benefit claimants to spot increases in their savings which push them over the benefit eligibility threshold, or when people send more time overseas than the benefit rules allow for. This will help identify fraud [and] take action more quickly.”

A pernicious aspect of the Bill (clause 8) is that makes it very difficult for people to find out the information held about them by government agencies. Requests can more easily be dismissed as vexatious or excessive.

On 29 November 2023, the Bill was passed by the House of Commons by 269 to 31 votes. A Labour Party spokesperson said “We support the Bill” and the party abstained on the vote. It will now come to the Lords.

The new surveillance powers are to be applied to around 22.4m people claiming a variety of benefits. The UK has some 12.6 million recipients of the state pension, and many retirees claim means-tested benefits because the state pension is too low to live on. So retirees too are included in the 22.4m people subject to surveillance.

How prevalent is benefit fraud? The government estimates that for the year 2023 the benefit fraud was £6.4bn (2.7% of total). The government claims that mass surveillance would reduce fraud by £600 million over the next five years though this somehow became £500m during the debate in the Commons, i.e. £100m-£120m a year. During 2023-24, the government is expected to spend some £1,189bn. So, how significant is a potential saving of £100m-£120m in that context? Or is the Bill just distracting attention away from other objectives by demonising the less well-off?

The focus on bank accounts suggests that the government is looking for unusual patterns. So, if you give a lump sum to a loved one for Christmas, birthday, holiday or home repairs, and it passes through a bank, the government could seize upon that as evidence of excess resources and reduce or stop benefits. Suppose a poor person pawns some household items for a few pounds and that temporarily boosts bank balance. Would that person be penalised?

Any government serious and even-handed about tackling fraud would arguably extend surveillance to arenas other than just benefits, but it does not. Billions of pounds have been lost due to government related frauds in pandemic management, Covid loans and contracts for cronies, but none of the individuals involved are under financial surveillance.

The Bill only targets the less well-off. There is no equivalent surveillance of legislators who accept payments to advance the interests of their corporate paymasters. Earlier this year, in a sting operation former chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, and former health secretary, Matt Hancock, agreed to work for £10,000 a day to further the interests of a company, but there is no surveillance of the bank accounts for former ministers.

There is no surveillance of the bank accounts of bankers engaging in illicit financial flows. The defence industry has a long history of engaging in bribery and corruption to secure contracts, but its bank accounts are not subject to surveillance. Energy companies also do the same, but neither theirs nor their directors’ bank accounts are subject to surveillance.

Since 2010, HMRC has failed to collect between £450bn and £1,500bn of taxes due to evasion, avoidance and errors. Most avoidance schemes are designed and marketed by bankers, accountants and lawyers, but the Bill does not put their bank accounts under surveillance. Major accounting firms are central to concocting abusive avoidance schemes, but despite strong court judgments, no major accounting firm has been investigate, fined or prosecuted. Research shows that people are 23 times more likely to be prosecuted for benefit offences that tax offences.

This Bill is part of a long line of laws that frames the working class as the problem because they withdraw labour to improve their pay and working conditions. The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023 makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for workers to take strike action. So, what are workers to do about worsening pay? People might protest, but the The Public Order Act 2023 has criminalised protests that can cause “serious disruption” to two or more people or to an organisation in a public place.

The government blames the working class for social ills without addressing any of the underlying social problems. Former Prime Minister Liz Truss described UK workers as the “worst idlers in the world” even though they work some of the longest hours in Europe. However, work does not pay enough even though corporate profits are booming. Some 38% of the 6.2m people on Universal Credit are in employment. 58% are women as gender pay gap persists, and the government does little about the underlying issues. Those receiving low wages turn to social security support and become subject to surveillance.

The scapegoating of the working class is carefully wrapped in claims about Brexit opportunities and fraud prevention. In this way, the government (or The Party, as Orwell called it) erodes people’s ability to think rationally and makes them believe its propaganda. People are constantly told that they must sacrifice their liberties and freedoms for the greater good of the society, which is equated with greater good of capital and wealthy elites. The government thinks this commitment will somehow make people forget about the harsh realities of 7.8m waiting list for NHS hospitals, hungry children, crumbling schools, cost of living, poverty and economic failures. People need to produce counter narratives to check the continuous erosion of hard-won rights.": https://leftfootforward.org/2023/12/prem-sikka-how-the-data-protection-and-digital-information-bill-is-the-governments-latest-erosion-of-hard-won-rights/

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Prevent the DWP from scrutinising disabled people’s bank accounts


Great article, and thanks for forwarding @GKH. I’ve bookmarked this for closer reading as there’s a wealth of links worth following up… too many for one sitting.

This quote infuriated me particularly . . .

Former Prime Minister Liz Truss described UK workers as the “worst idlers in the world” even though they work some of the longest hours in Europe.

. . . because the previous article I was reading was this one:

The likely unemployment arising from this decision will bring even more people under the scrutiny of the Welfare Espionage Complex that the Prem Sikka article lays out so capably.

I never thought HS2 was a good idea: there was no real business case, it was environmentally disastrous, just another money laundering scheme for the same handful of engineering firms. Even so, 1500+ people tossed out of work, and the knock-on effects in a town that is already on its uppers, is a vicious and deliberate kick in the teeth.

One of the reasons why Russia is wiping the floor with quasi-NATO forces is that in the RF they actually make stuff, invest in engineering, there’s actual factories. But the neoCons (and that includes the cowardly Abstainer Party led by Queef Starver)?

We(F) simply can’t see the point, dahling.

Part of me asks: when will it dawn on these people that destroying the economic base is killing our society? But then I realise: they know it all too well, they do not care, this is the whole idea.

Get more and more people dependent on State handouts, surveilled for thoughtcrimes 24/7, waiting for the one bus an hour to ferry us off to buy shitty nutrition-free food in some grimy supermarket. The 10% speed by in their Teslas. The 1% quaff their port and order in battalions of mercenary thugs (ex-Ukrainian army no doubt, a lot of them) to deal with anyone who dares to rebel.

In William Gibson’s latest trilogy (the third is still being written) a confluence of events cause The Jackpot. Depopulation, devastation, and much more… I’m not quite finished the first book so can’t be especially specific. In post-Jackpot London, Oxford Street is a ‘greenway’: fake plastic trees and devices shaped to look like butterflies. There are hardly any people, even the servant class are androids.

Remember this Boris Johnson piss-take?

Gibson’s choice of name for this apocalypse is deeply ironic but probably very accurate. WE really do seem to be headed for a jackpot for the upper-class survivors (the ‘klepts’). For the rest of us . . . it’s the boot on the neck until extinction.


I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks of him as that lmao!


Hold faith. Society and it’s consciousness will make the jackpot difficult to achieve. I know a few that don’t care. Two are friends. I’ll help them if I can, but they’ve made it clear they want to be ignorant (they’re struggling, and are focused on staying afloat). Others haven’t had time to look up yet, but they will. Sooner or later the Rubicon will be crossed. Cars for example. It seems they’re gonna insure us off the roads with older cars. Very utopian. But the little UK has 2% of the world’s vehicles. Good luck with that one. Never mind losing your cooker etc.

This caught my eye this morning. I suspect it’s grounds for two tier money, but who knows?

I’ll bet a digital bank run terrifies them


I’ll say this, don’t underestimate the influence of a false-economy that is WiFi based, nuclear technology or of an inverted physics which is sufficiently perverted and destructive as accepted theory let alone as a material actuality!
Take crypto-currencies for instance, a total deception…of themselves! Crowley would be impressed!


…then there’s the truth concerning how the West’s wars of intervention have been enabled by utilising a nuclear poison as a munition and how the true scale of Britain’s over exposure during the Credit Crunch has been obfuscated by the international financial community (even incl. -by association-, the Chinese #neoliberalism), et.al ad nauseam.

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Thanks for sharing the Guardina piece. Two off-the-cuff reactions.

If privacy is the issue likely to frighten the horses, making non-Guardian readers the test subjects (poor, not listened to, claiming benefits) would be the logical way forward. It’s not like they deserve privacy after all, swindling the dole while living the high life of beer, baccy, bingo, in Benidorm. (H/T Inner City Unit)

As for Bank Runs, sure, that would be a bummer for great-uncle Arthur with his buy-to-let slum empire already cracking at the edges. So make the ‘choice’ between the ‘parallel’ systems one-way. Keep a sterling account, sure, but you can only swap streams once. As soon as you claim benefits or make it to State Pension age the choice is taken away. Fairly quickly the High Street bank account becomes the sort of exotic item that Farage’s Coutts account was. The Daily Torygraph kicked up a fuss about that but I bet the bulk of the Graun’s target audience didn’t. In fact rather enjoyed it.

Takeaway: the Feds will keep floating these “but whatabout” articles, and offer reassurances, but the thing IS happening. As you said @LocalYokel “…it’s grounds for two tier money”.

I agree cars and cookers will be tricky to persuade people that they don’t need. The Gov backed down quickly enough on heat pumps too. But I seem to recall that them up Jedburgh way, and all points north, are pressing ahead anyway on that last one.

It isn’t a particularly good film but has an interesting hypothesis: I Think We’re Alone Now. The last man in the world belatedly realises he isn’t after all. A young-ish woman turns up, apparently from Palm Springs. I’ll say no more incase anyone wants to watch it but there is very much the implication that the technocrat uber-class who live in affluent places like Palm Springs, and the nicer parts of San Francisco perhaps, do make it past the Jackpot. Everyone else, seemingly not. (The main fault of the film, apart from being slow slow slow is that a lot of the dialogue - and there isn’t really all that much - is barely audible. That and soundtrack by Rush…which is brutally audible when you’ve turned the volume up to 10.)

“In your own words, why should the DWP never scrutinise the bank accounts of benefit claimants?”

I said; “For one thing any transactions regarding; political affiliations, memberships of organisations, campaigns and/or trade unions should become open to scrutiny only after due process in specific cases and that only in extremis, knowledge of other financial activity such as investments or shares (esp. in community groups etc.), should also only be available to scrutiny in such circumstances.” See link to make comment to the DWP.


If you sign the petition you’ll get a follow up email (one of the few organisations I subscribe to via-email).

How…how did this get through the Lord’s…HOW!?..Prevent the DWP from scrutinising disabled people's bank accounts Let’s protest…!

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