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Tony Blair figures high on the shortlist of nominees for UK's fifth annual Big Brother awards.

The Prime Minister, nominated for his "active involvement in the government's attack on civil liberties", joins Home Secretary David Blunkett and Capita as the three candidates for the Lifetime Menace Award.

The category is of five "prizes" to be decided on March 25th, when human rights watchdog Privacy International presents the fifth annual Big Brother awards. Government and private sector organisations that have done the most to invade personal privacy in Britain will be named and shamed during the awards ceremony.

The gold awards - in the shape of a boot stamping on a human head (an image, like the phrase Big Brother, taken from George Orwell's seminal novel 1984) - will be presented in five categories. Judges yesterday announced the shortlist, as follows:

Most Invasive Company: The award in this category will be contested between Capita, the company behind many of the government's most controversial surveillance and data management schemes; Argos, which has participated in a customer thumb-printing scheme; and the credit reference giant Experian, which won the company category award in 1999.

Most Appalling Project: The lead contender in this category is the government's "Data Sharing" scheme, shepherded by the Performance & Innovation Unit. The other short-listed nominees are Electronic Voting and the government's Entitlement Card proposal.

Most Heinous Government Organisation This will be a contest between regular nominees the Home Office, and two newcomers: the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

Worst Public Servant David Blunkett was consistently nominated for this category, but his transgressions against personal privacy have been so grave that the judges also unanimously promoted him to the Lifetime Menace shortlist. He will compete with Ken Livingstone, nominated because of his obsession with travel and transport surveillance, and the government's secretive "Interception of Communications" Commissioner, Sir Swinton Thomas.

Lifetime Menace Award: Tony Blair, David Blunkett and Capita.

According to Privacy International director Simon Davies, civil liberties in Britain have been eroded over the last year.

"Many politicians and companies have since the September 11th attacks jumped onto the security bandwagon without any justification," said Davis.

"We have noticed a disturbing level of hostility toward privacy over the past year by nearly all parts of government and the private sector."

Privacy International has accused the Office of the Information Commissioner of complacency and dereliction of duty.

"The Office is rapidly becoming part of the problem," said Davies. "The Commissioners Office has been nominated for a 'Dishonourable Mention' because of its consistent failure to adequately promote and protect the principles of privacy."

Disturbance at last year's ceremony involving attacks on high-profile winners forced the organisation to make this year's event "invitation-only". For the first time the event is closed to the public.

Davis explained: "We are deeply sad about having to do this but we must consider the safety of our guests".

Big Brother awards, which on a lighter note also recognise those who've campaigned for civil liberties, are now held as an annual event in thirteen countries. Nominations are welcome from the public. The 2003 US Big Brother awards will be held on April 3 at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference in New York City. ®

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