Feeds

Info chief voices doubts over surveillance tech

Airs scepticism at Westminster hearing

The Power of One Infographic

Information Commissioner Richard Thomas yesterday told members of the Home Affairs Select Committee on the Surveillance Society that a proliferation of surveillance technologies were being turned on society in the hope of curing its ills - even though the jury was still out on whether it was effective.

This stance followed the findings of his report on the surveillance society last autumn.

Thomas said he realised that it was not possible to stand "Canute-like" against the tide of technological progress - that there was a "certain inevitability" that state and industry would collect information.

But he cautioned against headlong progress with technologies that had the potential to refashion society in an unsettling mode.

Problems occurred when computers classified people according to binary information, he said, citing the fact that 40 per cent of Black British men were stored on the police DNA database, and running through a list of people who had been treated unfairly after being wrongly or unfairly categorised and sorted according to computer logic.

Committee chairman John Denham was sceptical. He said the Soham murders and ensuing Bichard enquiry had prompted an outcry for "more efficient systems of spreading unproven information about individuals around the country and making that unproven information available to tens of thousands of potential employers. Surely those are two examples where the public say we expect you to put these systems in place".

David Smith, deputy Information Commissioner, noted how information about Ian Huntley that could have prevented the Soham murders was available, but the systems weren't working. However, the new system is not sophisticated enough to prevent people being discriminated against - for having old convictions for things like shop lifting, for example.

Jonathan Bamford, assistant Information Commissioner, said society should ask whether the means were "proportionate to the evil we are trying to address". Would better street lighting and more social workers do a better job at reducing crime?

Despite the sceptical view of technology the ICO staff gave the hearing, they suggested the answer to the problem might also be technological.

The implication was that people couldn't be trusted to dish out social justice when they had the power afforded them by the surveillance state. Alas, said Thomas, people were concerned about protecting their own privacy, but less inclined to care for other people's. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
Major problems beset UK ISP filth filters: But it's OK, nobody uses them
It's almost as though pr0n was actually rather popular
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
ITC: Seagate and LSI can infringe Realtek patents because Realtek isn't in the US
Land of the (get off scot) free, when it's a foreign owner
MPs wave through Blighty's 'EMERGENCY' surveillance laws
Only 49 politcos voted against DRIP bill
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.