‘A SURVEILLANCE SOCIETY’ – poll finds ‘we are all suspects’

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Human rights group Liberty yesterday called for stronger privacy protection as a YouGov poll revealed that a majority of UK citizens believe Britain is a ‘surveillance society’.

In a report released yesterday, Liberty catalogues ‘the numerous ways in which ordinary Britons have increasingly become “suspects” subject to intense surveillance since the advent of the war on terror’.

A YouGov poll commissioned by the human rights group found that only 17 per cent of Britons trust the authorities to keep their personal details completely confidential while 57 per cent believe the UK has become a ‘surveillance society.’

Liberty’s 145-page report, Overlooked: Surveillance and personal privacy in Britain, explores the increase in surveillance including the mass retention of personal information in government-run databases and the growth of the national DNA database.

The report finds that the authorities are increasingly using mass surveillance to profile rather than targeting individual criminal suspects using intelligence-led policing, with disastrous implications for the privacy of law-abiding Britons.

Liberty’s Policy Director and principal author of the report, Gareth Crossman, said: ‘In times of heightened insecurity we quite rightly compromise some of our privacy for public protection, but if we don’t pause for thought right now, our children will grow up without any sense of the value of privacy.’

Last week Liberty won a six-month battle with the Avon and Somerset Constabulary to have the DNA of an innocent 13-year-old boy removed from the National DNA Database (NDNAD).

The boy had been falsely accused of writing graffiti. The DNA of approximately 100,000 innocent children has been retained on the NDNAD.

Key findings of the report include:

• An increase in the use of databases, such as the National Identity Cards Database (National Identity Register) which becomes compulsory in 2010, allow the Government to retain and share unprecedented amounts of individual personal information.

Authorities use the information for ‘data matching’ in which computers sift data to identify potential criminal behaviour instead of developing intelligence-led investigations.

• Personal communications surveillance has reached unprecedented levels with nearly 440,000 authorisations recorded between June 2005 and March 2006.

• CCTV is not a proven crime deterrent and is poorly regulated, yet the UK is the world leader in CCTV use with approximately 4.2 million cameras.

• The National DNA database is the largest in the world with 3.9 million samples.

Expansion of the NDNAD by taking samples upon arrest rather than conviction has disproportionately affected black men with nearly 40 per cent of black men represented, versus 13 per cent of Asian men and 9 per cent of white men.