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Commons to eye surveillance society

ID cards still in question

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Government plans for identity cards will be re-examined by MPs as part of a wide-ranging inquiry into the surveillance society due to be announced by the House of Commons Select Committee next Tuesday.

The Committee has not yet published its terms of reference for the inquiry, but it will question the government's use of databases, biometrics, physical means of surveillance such as CCTV cameras, and the government's DNA database, which, controveriailly, is expected to have grabbed the genetic signature of nearly two thirds of young black men in Britain by April, compared to just 22 per cent of young white men and six per cent of the general population.

The government's data sharing initiative, meanwhile, is proposes that it use data profiles of people at risk of doing wrong to target interventions in their lives.

Guy Herbert, general secretary of No2ID, which campaigns against identity cards and "the database state", said a thorough review of data sharing initiatives being pursued by all government departments was in order. The Department of Constitutional Affairs is exploring how laws designed to protect people's civil liberties might be watered down to allow more liberal data sharing across government departments.

David Davis, the Conservative Shadow Home Secretary said in a statement that the government had reneged on its promise that identity cards would not be used to trawl population data to crack unsolved crimes.

“Labour should realise the state exists to serve the citizen and not the other way round,” he said.

A separate Home Office review of the use of CCTV, which was due to be published in December is now expected within a matter of weeks. The report, which is waiting for ministers to sign it off, will recommend that all CCTV operators be required to upgrade their systems so that their recordings could be used as evidence in court cases.

The review has involved a confidential consultation with CCTV, police, transport, retail bosses and academics, but opponents of the technology have not been included.

Graeme Gerrard, joint lead on the review, told The Register last November that the plans would also prepare the ground for the police use of emerging surveillance technologies that automatically identify behaviour caught on camera.

The publication of the Information Commissioner's report on the emerging surveillance society last October created the momentum that led to this inquiry and will be a starting point for MPs.

The Commissioner's report noted how the means of surveillance were being designed to sift and sort people into categories that could be more efficiently processed by the state, and outlined the many areas where this was happening.

One of possible consequences of the computerisation of society is the reinforcement of existing inequalities by giving special dispensations to people whose database profiles pass the muster.

This idea is being extended into a sharing arrangement between international governments, it is said, to protect against terrorist attacks from beyond national borders.

The US adoption of this technology has thus far only been employed against foreigners through its Automated Targeting System, which builds database profiles that determine how individual foreign travellers should be treated.®

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