The Silent State is Heather Brooke’s polemic against government secrecy and the systemic surveillance of the day to day lives of UK citizens. Heather Brooke is best known as the journalist who pursued a Freedom of Information Request with Parliament to disclose details of MP expenses. Brooke is rightly often praised for her work in exposing the corruption that was endemic in MP’s expense claims, but for all her work, Brooke, as she herself admits, ultimately failed. The MP expenses scandal was not caused by the government releasing information as required by law, but by a civil servant leaking information to the Telegraph after every effort was taken by parliamentary authorities to obfuscate the order to release information.
This obfuscation and secrecy is, for Brooke, no mere one-off event; it encapsulates the nature of the British government, both nationally and locally. In each chapter she takes a different facet of British life and shows the scale of information collected by the authorities and the often shocking lack of public accountability over its contents or use. There is no doubt that at times the scale of this information is disconcerting.
The Silent State is a well-written and -researched book and, as such those interested in UK politics or especially civil liberties will find this book provocative. However, I personally can’t help but feel there is more than a touch of the conspiracy theory to Brooke’s work; if given the opportunity she always takes the worst possible conclusion from a set of evidence. I am not convinced that some of the excesses are not better explained as signs of incompetence rather than malignancy.