MPs criticise legislation facilitating 'mass surveillance' of bank accounts through AI

MPs have tabled a motion against new legislation that could facilitate the "mass surveillance" of UK bank accounts through the use of AI.

The group of 29 MPs said that they are “deeply alarmed” by powers contained in the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill that would allow the government to surveil millions of people, including the most vulnerable in society.

The MPs warn that these new powers would force banks to spy on the 23 million people currently in the welfare system, including those who are disabled, sick, caregivers, jobseekers, and pensioners, as well as on the private banking data of people related to them, including partners, parents, and landlords.

The new legislation, which is currently moving through the House of Lords, aims to "update and simplify" the UK’s data protection framework.

Under the current rules, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) can only request details of a bank account holder’s transactions if there are reasonable grounds to suspect them of fraud.

The motion warned that because the law will rely on the use of AI to monitor accounts to flag activity considered suspicious by the Department for Work and Pensions, this could create a “Post Office Horizon-style scandal” whereby innocent people face wrongful prosecution, financial ruin, and reputational damage.

Disability Rights UK has said that using algorithms to trawl a large number of accounts at once removes the right to privacy, while the chances of false positive matches for fraud or error are "incredibly high".

Civil liberties non-profit Big Brother Watch has also described the legislation's potential for expansive surveillance, high rates of error, and disproportionate impact on people in vulnerable positions as "huge."

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