A cross-party group of MPs are calling for the suspension of the Counter Disinformation Unit (CDU), a government unit accused of monitoring and suppressing free speech. The CDU was set up in 2019 to combat disinformation about foreign interference in the European elections, but concerns have since been raised about its focus on monitoring online dissent during the Covid pandemic. According to The Telegraph, documents disclosed under data protection laws have revealed that the unit and an AI company employed by it collected legitimate posts questioning the government's lockdown policies, including comments from respected scientists and campaigners. The MPs have written to Michelle Donelan, the Secretary of State for Digital, Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), calling for an independent review of the CDU's work to ensure the protection of freedom of expression and privacy.
In a statement commenting on the article, a spokesperson for Big Brother Watch said: "The British public expect the Government to fight against the disinformation campaigns of hostile foreign states but it is clear that the Government’s Counter Disinformation Unit has strayed from this core mission into snooping on legitimate criticism of government policies... The idea of civil servants monitoring and recording elected MPs in shadowy ‘disinformation’ reports simply for criticising the Government is a complete and utter stain on our democracy."
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