The Nether-World

October 30, 2006

Waking up to the Surveillance Society

Filed under: Bliar, Civil Liberties, Privacy — netherworld @ 6:56 am

Back in February I wrote a post entitled “Fascist Britain” in which I outlined numerous ways in which our freedoms are being eroded. Since then the situation seems to have worsened. The British are now the most spied-on people in western world.

BRITISH people are now more spied upon by their political leaders than any other population in the free world, according to an official report.

The linkage of databases and surveillance systems mean people are now having their movements tracked, habits profiled and photograph taken hundreds of times a day. The findings, in a report compiled on behalf of Richard Thomas, the information commissioner, raised concerns that Britain is “waking up in a surveillance society”.

Thomas said: “Many of these schemes are public sector driven, and the individual has no choice over whether or not to take part. People are being scrutinised and having their lives tracked, and are not even aware of it.

“They don’t know, for instance, that a record is kept of every internet site they visit. They don’t realise that when identity cards come in, there will be a record of their movements and every time they have engaged with any public service.”
Read on

The intrusions into our privacy go even further than those outlined in the above article. For instance, Tony Blair wants as many people as possible to have their DNA stored on a national database. Not to be outdone, Gordon Brown is planning to allow shops to share confidential information with police databases with the ID card scheme. Even our household wheelie bins are being secretly tagged with hidden electronic “bugs” and and innocent children are to be subjected to compulsory fingerprinting.

How could we let things get so bad? There are several possible answers to this. Most obviously is the climate of fear that is being spread by our Government which uses the so called “War on Terror” to scare us into accepting ever more draconian restrictions on our freedoms… in order to preserve them. John Reid is particularly prone to using this absurd argument as is Tony Blair. But there is more to the phenomenon of the surveillance society than just scare mongering. One way we allow this to happen is to be sold the idea that all this surveillance makes our lives easier. By allowing private businesses in on the act, the Government can avoid taking responsibility for what happens and just calling it ‘progress’. For example, the idea that shoppers may one day be able to pay their grocery bills using a microchip implanted in their body is being sold to us as a quicker and more secure way of purchasing goods. By falling for this trick we willingly participate in our own enslavement. In other words we are responsible for how free we are and governments and businesses can only intrude on our privacy because we let them. We reverse this process only by refusing to be terrorised into accepting these initiatives; boycotting businesses that participate and protesting. It may well be too late, but do we really want to sleepwalk into a fascist state?

*UPDATE*

I just found news of a conference on Data Protection and Privacy whilst reading Spyblog. The theme is:

“A Surveillance Society?” – 28th International Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners’ Conference, London 2nd – 3rd November 2006

I was struck by the welcome address by The United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas:

Whilst I cannot promise the sunshine of Buenos Aires, I can promise that by coming to the United Kingdom you will be visiting a country with over 4 million CCTV cameras. Visiting London, you will be staying in a city able to monitor its citizens as they travel around the capital by car or on the Underground system. But London is also a city that has witnessed the kind of terrorist atrocities that spark calls for governments to do more and more to protect its citizens.

I’d be interested in reading a report from anyone going.

*ANOTHER UPDATE*

Antipholus Papps makes a very good point in the comments.

It’s also worth mentioning the Big Brother/reality TV propaganda offensive that has accompanied this. Constant surveillance is being sold to the podlings as a lark. A sign of importance and celebrity.

And while I’m updating this post again, I should include some other articles that have just come out and are very relevant to this post. First this:

The man who developed DNA testing in the 1980s has attacked the spread of data collection by police as “mission creep”.

Sir Alec Jeffreys said that the tool, which was meant to catch criminals who reoffend, has created a vast database of gene profiles of thousands of innocent citizens.
Source

And more alarming still there is this:

By 2016, they’ll be able to watch you everywhere

By Richard Ford

Surveillance systems installed to fight crime and terrorism track us as we go about our lives. It may be too late to halt Big Brother

Britain is becoming a “Big Brother” surveillance society with millions of people being tracked throughout their lives, according to a report published today.

Shopping habits, travel movements and car and train journeys are being monitored increasingly as part of the fabric of daily life.

The report gives warning that funding from the War on Terror is being used to explore the opportunity of connecting data-gathering systems to track “the movements and behaviour” of millions of people.

Massive surveillance systems now underpin modern life and are set to transform the ability of the Government, law and order agencies and companies to keep a closer check on citizens.
Read on

It’s worth reading the whole article as it paints a very scary and accurate picture of what is going on in our society. Also there is this article from The Independent:

Britain has sleepwalked into becoming a surveillance society that increasingly intrudes into our private lives and impacts on everyday activities, the head of the information watchdog warns.

New technology and “invisible” techniques are being used to gather a growing amount of information about UK citizens. The level of surveillance will grow even further in the next 10 years, which could result in a growing number of people being discriminated against and excluded from society, says a report by the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas.

Future developments could include microchip implants to identify and track individuals; facial recognition cameras fitted into lamp posts; and unmanned surveillance aircraft, predict the report’s authors.

I’ve saved the article as a pdf file which you can access here when the on-line version expires. The Guardian is also reporting on this phenomenon as is The Telegraph. This creeping surveillance has been steadily increasing and, as the article says, we have been sleepwalking into it. How many people remember this sinister poster campaign from the Mayor of London?

Secure beneath the watchful eyes

I don’t know about you dear reader but when I saw these posters crop up all over London I felt far less secure; and yet we accepted it despite the Orwellian implication of the message. If Richard Thomas, the UK Infomation Commissioner is concerned then we should be as well.

*YET ANOTHER UPDATE*

Oh, one more thing.

The NHS database will soon be on line. This means that:

Millions of personal medical records are to be uploaded regardless of patients’ wishes to a central national database from where information can be made available to police and security services, the Guardian has learned.

Details of mental illnesses, abortions, pregnancy, HIV status, drug-taking, or alcoholism may also be included, and there are no laws to prevent DNA profiles being added. The uploading is planned under Whitehall’s bedevilled £12bn scheme to computerise the health service.
Read on

In fact, better still, read the same article via this post by Obsolete. It’s worth it.
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