Government using ‘secret files’ to cancel and deter critics

Defence and security Law and Justice Policy & Politics

The UK government is trawling social media to monitor potential critics and compile “secret files” that are used to cancel them from presenting at public events, a law firm has discovered.

According to the Observer, 15 government departments are engaged in monitoring experts’ opinions with a view to actively “cancelling” critics from speaking at government funded events.

Officials at government departments – including health, environment, food and rural affairs, culture, media and sport – are operating under guidelines advising them to check historic and contemporary posts on social media to build secret files on criticism of the government by experts.

As well as monitoring activity on LinkedIn, Instagram, facebook and X (formerly Twitter), officials are directed to search Google using the expert’s name with specific terms such as “criticism of government or prime minister”.

The Guardian’s sister (Sunday) newspaper reports the practices “is widespread across government” and “designed to prevent anyone who has criticised the government in the previous three to five years from speaking at government-organised conferences and other events.”

Human rights experts at law firm Leigh Day uncovered the extent of the government profiling and secret files. Partner Tessa Gregory said: “This is likely to have impacted large numbers of individuals, many of whom won’t know civil servants hold secret files on them. Such practices are extremely dangerous.”

Furthermore, Gregory says, the compiling of secret files by the government are unlawful, breaches data protection laws and potentially breaks equality and human rights legislation.

The revelations are also, the Observer states, “hugely embarrassingly for a Conservative party” that claims to champion free speech while admonishing universities for giving in to students campaigns to “no platform” controversial speakers.

Chemical weapons expert Dan Kaszeta – who was cancelled from speaking at a government event in May due to his Twitter posts that were critical of the government – called the extent of the secret files “shocking”.

Kaszeta – who worked for 12 years as an adviser for the White House –  was told in an email from the Ministry of Defence that rules were introduced by the Cabinet Office in 2022 specifying that “the social media accounts of potential speakers must be vetted before final acceptance” to speak at conferences and events. The email continued: “The check on your social media has identified material that criticises government officials and policy. It is for this reason and not because we do not value your technical insight, that I’m afraid that we have no choice and must cancel your invitation to the CWD [Chemical Weapons Demilitarisation] conference.”

Responding to the latest report, Kaszeta told the Observer he is aware of a dozen other experts who have been blacklisted by the government. Many of these are too afraid to speak out because of the ramifications and far more will be aware they are being monitored and have government secret files of their online activity and criticisms.

“The full extent of this is shocking and probably not fully known. I was lucky enough to be given clearcut, obvious evidence. It’s truly awful,” said Kaszeta.

He is currently crowd-funding for a judicial review to “end Uk government blacklisting of private citizens” and said: “My hope is that a Judicial Review will find this government policy unlawful and I need your help to raise funds to fight this battle. Not so much for me, but for all of us.

“There are other victims of this policy, but I am fortunate enough to still be within the narrow time window for judicial review. Consider me the spearhead.”

The latest report follows an investigation in September by the newspaper that revealed three early-childhood experts found out they were targeted for cancellation for being critical of government policy. In the following two months, “many more education experts” have uncovered “secret files” documenting their criticism of government policy by the Department for Education.

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