If a Home Secretary had suggested, even 20 years ago, that all telephone calls should be monitored by police and the security services, regardless of any evidence to suggest wrong-doing, the idea would have been strangled at birth. The mere thought that Britain should succumb to surveillance on such a scale would have brought immediate comparisons to the worst excesses of the totalitarian state envisaged by George Orwell in 1984.
As for the return of identity cards, which have never been used in this country outside of war-time, the idea would simply have been unthinkable for most MPs and voters.
The rise of the internet and the age of instant communication has changed for ever our perception of the extent to which the state should be permitted to probe into private lives. There is a belief, rightly or wrongly, that email and mobile phones make it far easier for organised crime and terrorism to succeed and that something must be done to monitor the airwaves.
Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, has been handed a thankless task in attempting to lobby support for the introduction of a super-database of all telephone calls, emails and internet use, which she insists is necessary in order to provide police with the information they need to apprehend the worst criminals.
Her task has not been made easier by the Government’s wish to hand such a sensitive task to private firms, raising obvious doubts about security breaches.
Nor is Ms Smith convincing when she stresses that the database will not feature the content of communications, only details of sites visited and addresses for emails.
Many people who regard this as a step too far will suspect that content of emails and phone calls is the next step for a government with an increasingly illiberal agenda.