Friday, February 06, 2009

Lords: rise of CCTV is threat to freedom

The House of Lords have published a new report which states that steady expansion of the "surveillance society" risks undermining fundamental freedoms, including the right to privacy.

It also questions whether Britain's quite extraordinary expansion of surveillance actually has any real effect in reducing crime.

The cross-party committee which includes Lord Woolf, a former lord chief justice, and two former attorneys general, Lord Morris and Lord Lyell, warns that "pervasive and routine" electronic surveillance and the collection and processing of personal information is almost taken for granted.

Although many surveillance practices and data collection processes are unknown to most people, the expansion in their use represents "one of the most significant changes in the life of the nation since the end of the second world war", the report says. The committee warns that the national DNA database could be used for "malign purposes", challenges whether CCTV cuts crime and questions whether local authorities should be allowed to use surveillance powers at all.

The peers say privacy is an "essential prerequisite to the exercise of individual freedom" and the growing use of surveillance and data collection needs to be regulated by executive and legislative restraint at all times.

This is the point which I keep harping on about. Privacy is as important a right as any other. And yet, we live in a society where some 4 million cameras watch and record our every move, to be later pored over by the state.

They sell this to us by telling us that it helps reduce crime and aids in the fight against terrorism. I'm not sure that this is true. The only time I ever see CCTV footage employed in terrorist cases always appears to be after the event when we witness, for example, the 7-7 bombers boarding trains. So, whilst it appears to have a use in working out what happened after the event, I am not sure what role it plays in prevention.

"The huge rise in surveillance and data collection by the state and other organisations risks undermining the long-standing traditions of privacy and individual freedom which are vital for democracy," he said. "If the public are to trust that information about them is not being improperly used there should be much more openness about what data is collected, by whom and how it is used."

The constitution committee makes more than 40 recommendations to protect individual privacy, including the deletion of all profiles from the national DNA database except for those of convicted criminals and a call for the mandatory encryption of personal data held by public and private organisations that are legally obliged to hold it.

Were this data to have been held by the Soviet Union on it's own citizens we would not hesitate to condemn such intrusion into their privacy; indeed, we would have used this as the perfect example of the Big Brother state.

But, because it is our government which is gathering such a vast amount of information on it's citizenry, we are asked to trust that their intentions are benign, and that it is all for our own good.

Which isn't terribly different from the argument which the Soviets might have made.

Click title for full article.


John said...

cctv in chennaisays its very true it reduces Privacy of common man but in the security point of view it may be needed

Kel said...

I agree that there is a balance to be struck but here in the UK we are the most surveyed nation on Earth.