Britain’s Surveillance Society

Various sites, including the Independent Online and the BBC covered yesterday’s comments from the UK Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, on the increasing scope of surveillance in the UK which now has one CCTV camera for every 14 people. This follows on from similar remarks he made two years ago, warning that Britain risked “sleepwalking into a surveillance society”.

Of course, CCTV is useful for catching terrorists, but sometimes leads to bad decisions such as with Jean Charles de Menezes, or David Mery, who was arrested for suspicious behaviour while waiting for an underground train (later interviewed on radio).

Aside from the government’s recent record of implementing IT systems, there is the issue of how all of this CCTV and other personal data may be misused. And if you are unlucky enough for someone to be driving around with a fake car number plate identical to yours, you will have a hard time convincing the authorities that it wasn’t you.

Under UK Data Protection law we have rights to access data that organisations hold on us, with caveats. But it can be difficult to obtain this data, as the (unrelated) comedian Mark Thomas demonstrated when he explored how to obtain copies of surveillance footage of himself legitimately.


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