It is not just civil libertarians who are alarmed by the Westminster Government's proposal to build a massive database containing records of all phone and email communicatons and website traffic, accessible by the police and other public authorities. Opposition descriptions of the plan as "Orwellian" and an "exponential increase" in state powers are not as exaggerated as such political reaction often is.

Granted, it is the details of the traffic and not the content of the messages that would be kept. Granted also, the purpose is to combat terrorism and other serious crime and the Government believes that the increasingly sophisticated use by criminals of state-of-the-art forms of communication justifies a sweeping response. But mishaps with publicly held data are legion, and even if this were not so, can the collection of such a vast quantity of data be justified in order to target such a very small number of individuals?

One wonders whether such blanket measures are really likely to be effective. The powers already exist to monitor particular individuals, and are carefully controlled. The limits of legitimate surveillance are being stretched all the time. If we have not reached breaking point with this plan, will we ever?