The UK Defense Ministry closely monitored the social media accounts of public figures critical of the government's COVID-19 policies during the pandemic, a whistleblower told the Daily Mail newspaper on Saturday.
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The claim counters repeated official denials that the government carried out any such surveillance.
The military's secretive 77th Brigade compiled dossiers on anyone with a sizable following who questioned the lockdowns, mandates, and predictions of doom that characterized London's response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, according to the source, who worked for the unit during the pandemic.
The unit's duties included combatting "disinformation" and "harmful narratives... from purported experts," assisted by raw data scraped from social media by AI and civilian employees. Undesirable narratives were suppressed or removed, while government narratives were promoted, RT reported.
"I developed the impression the Government was more interested in protecting the success of their policies than uncaring any potential foreign interference," the whistleblower told the Mail, suggesting London's single-minded focus on suppressing criticism might have led to them overlooking genuine foreign meddling in the form of pro-lockdown campaigns from China.
While the 77th Brigade's information specialists officially target only foreign entities with "non-lethal engagement and legitimate non-military levers as means to adapt behaviors of adversaries," the whistleblower explained they cheated their way into surveilling UK citizens by claiming that "unless a profile explicitly stated their real name and nationality they could be a foreign agent and were fair game." Forbidden from repeatedly looking at a named UK citizen's account while on the clock, they merely waited until their shift was done to snoop on people they couldn't pretend were foreign.
Civil liberties group Big Brother Watch (BBW) obtained extensive documentation substantiating the whistleblower's claims and revealing that the Counter Disinformation Unit of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Rapid Response Unit of the Cabinet Office were also involved in the surveillance of British civilians.
BBW's director, Silkie Carlo, called for the immediate dissolution of the Counter Disinformation Unit and a full investigation of the materials it had obtained, describing the government's work on "countering misinformation" as dangerous to democracy.
An anonymous source within 10 Downing Street told the Mail that the disinformation units had wound down much of their work since the end of lockdowns.