Feeds

Lords say surveillance society erodes foundations of UK

Shift in character of life comes under fire

Boost IT visibility and business value

The House of Lords Constitution Committee has warned that increasing use of surveillance by the government and private companies is a serious threat to freedoms and constitutional rights.

The Committee's report said: "The expansion in the use of surveillance represents one of the most significant changes in the life of the nation since the end of the Second World War. Mass surveillance has the potential to erode privacy. As privacy is an essential pre-requisite to the exercise of individual freedom, its erosion weakens the constitutional foundations on which democracy and good governance have traditionally been based in this country."

Increased use of CCTV in public areas, the DNA database, the government's planned national ID card scheme and the various databases of British children are all threatening traditional freedoms, the report cautioned.

The Lords welcomed government moves to increase the powers of the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and expand its remit so it could consider the impact of government surveillance of the public under the Human Rights Act as well as having a role early on in the formation of government policy.

The Lords want the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) by local councils to be limited to investigating offences that would be punished by at least two years in prison. Although most RIPA requests are by spooks and police, there has been some use of the Act by local councils.

Further, the peers recommended judicial oversight of surveillance by public bodies and even that the targets of such investigations should be told about them once they are over if no charges are going to be brought.

The Home Office rejected much of this. In a statement it said CCTV and DNA were essential crime-fighting tools and that it was already reviewing the retention of DNA samples and consulting on the use of RIPA. The European Court of Human Rights told the Home Office in December that the retention of innocent people's DNA was illegal.

The Lords said it was time for the Home Office to pay for an independent review of the effectiveness of CCTV in stopping, detecting and investigating crime. They also called for a legally binding code of practise on the use of CCTV by private and public bodies.

The statement said: “The government has been clear that where surveillance or data collection will impact on privacy they should only be used where it is necessary and proportionate. The key is to strike the right balance between privacy, protection and sharing of personal data."

The Lords also called for changes to the three RIPA regulators - the Chief Surveillance Commissioner, the Interception of Communications Commissioner and the Intelligence Services Commissioner. The Lords urged the government to review the need for these three regulators to remove inefficiencies and "disjointed inspection".

ICO Assistant Commissioner Jonathan Bamford said: “For some time we have warned about the dangers of sleepwalking into a surveillance society and the risks to the privacy of individuals. More of our personal details are kept and for increasingly longer periods of time. They can become out of date or fall into the wrong hands and be used in ways to the detriment of individuals."

The ICO supported the Committee's call for it to be allowed to inspect private organisations even without consent, for regulation of CCTV and for government departments to carry out a Privacy Impact Assessment before starting new data grabs.

The ICO also called for the government to alter the Coroners and Justice Bill to more closely mirror the Thomas/Walport Data Sharing Review. As it stands, the Bill grants ministers the power to remove "an existing legal barrier to data sharing". Because we all know the government is constantly hamstrung by its obsessive following of data protection legislation, don't we? The loss of records on almost every UK family notwithstanding, of course. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
'Blow it up': Plods pop round for chat with Commonwealth Games tweeter
You'd better not be talking about the council's housing plans
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
Adam Afriyie MP: Smart meters are NOT so smart
Mega-costly gas 'n' 'leccy totting-up tech not worth it - Tory MP
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.