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MPs warn DWP faces 'Post Office Horizon-style scandal' over bank monitoring plan

A group of MPs have warned the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that their plans to conduct "mass surveillance" of millions of people's bank accounts for benefits fraud could spark a 'Horizon-style' scandal.

Currently, the DWP is only able to monitor the accounts of those suspected of fraud but, under the powers that look set to be granted by a bill going through Parliament, will soon be allowed to look through the personal finances of any one of the 23 million Brits who claim some form of benefit.

Tabling a motion, MPs cautioned that actively monitoring claimants with no evidence of fraud could cause a scandal similar to the one that saw hundreds of subpostmasters wrongly jailed for fraud. The motion, backed by 30 MPs, states: “that this house is deeply alarmed by new powers contained within the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill that would allow the Government to engage in the mass surveillance of tens of millions of people’s bank accounts.”

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The Early Day Motion continues to say that the law “would force banks to spy on the 23 million individuals 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, landlords and other associates”.

Proposed by Labour MP Richard Burgon, but gaining the support members of the DUP, SNP, and Liberal Democrats, the MPs warned in the motion that DWP plans to use "artificial intelligence to monitor the accounts” further “risks creating a Post Office Horizon-style scandal”.

Analysis by Public Technology indicates that these new powers could result