Warnings Issued Over Britain's Surveillance Techniques

Dennis Faas's picture

According to a recent report from the British House of Lords, Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) cameras and the UK's DNA database -- purported to be the "largest in the world" -- are two examples of "pervasive" threats to privacy in British society, and may even threaten to undermine democracy.

The report warns that pervasive and routine electronic surveillance and the collection and processing of personal information is almost taken for granted. (Source: guardian.co.uk)

Although the government calls CCTV and DNA essential to fight crime, privacy advocates say abuses of power mean that even the innocent have a lot to fear.

For years, civil liberty advocates have warned about the risks of a surveillance society in which the state acquires ever-greater, often unchecked powers to track people's movements and to retain personal data. The government says the plan is essential in fighting terrorism.

CCTV Camera Among Areas Of Most Concern

Estimates peg the growing number of CCTV cameras at four million in the UK. Privacy advocates say the UK has the most cameras per capita in the world, but no definitive figures are available. However, a 2004 European Commission found Britain had the highest density of CCTV cameras in Europe.

The EU found 40,000 cameras in public areas in 500 British towns and cities compared to fewer than 100 cameras in 15 German cities and no CCTV cameras at all in Denmark. (Source: bbc.co.uk)

DNA Sampling Defies Justice

According to the BBC, the UK's DNA database is the "largest in the world," with more than 7% of the population having their samples stored, compared with 0.5% in the U.S. (Source: bbc.co.uk)

DNA samples and fingerprints can be taken by police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland from anyone arrested on suspicion of a recordable offense. The samples can be held indefinitely, whether people are charged or not.

Privacy advocates say that anyone not convicted of a crime should have their DNA removed. A recent ruling in the case of two British men from the European Court of Human Rights concurred.

Lord Goodlad, former Tory chief whip and committee chairman, said there could be no justification for the state's obsession with the personal details of its citizens. (Source: guardian.co.uk)

The House of Lords' recent report makes more than 40 recommendations in an attempt to protect individual privacy. Missing from the report is any mention of the proposal for the 'super database' proposed by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and the proposal from Justice Secretary Jack Straw to lower barriers on the widespread sharing of personal data across the public sector. The report, entitled "Surveillance: Citizens and the State" is available from The House of Lords. (Source: parliament.uk)

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