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Thomas sounds surveillance warning

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The information commissioner has said the UK is adopting uncomfortably high levels of surveillance.

Richard Thomas expressed the view to mark the publication of a report, A Surveillance Society, released today. It looks at surveillance in 2006 and projects forward 10 years to 2016, describing a surveillance society as one where technology is extensively and routinely used to track and record people's activities and movements.

This includes systematic tracking and recording of travel and use of public services, automated use of CCTV, analysis of buying habits and financial transactions, and the workplace monitoring of telephone calls, email, and internet use. The report suggests that such surveillance is set to become pervasive over the next few years.

Thomas said: "Two years ago I warned that we were in danger of sleepwalking into a surveillance society. Today I fear that we are in fact waking up to a surveillance society that is already all around us.

"Surveillance activities can be well intentioned and bring benefits. They may be necessary or desirable - for example to fight terrorism and serious crime, to improve entitlement and access to public and private services, and to improve healthcare. But unseen, uncontrolled or excessive surveillance can foster a climate of suspicion and undermine trust.

"As ever more information is collected, shared and used, it intrudes into our private space and leads to decisions which directly influence people's lives. Mistakes can also easily be made with serious consequences – false matches and other cases of mistaken identity, inaccurate facts or inferences, suspicions taken as reality, and breaches of security.

"I am keen to start a debate about where the lines should be drawn. What is acceptable and what is not?" The report was commissioned by the Information Commissioner's Office.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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