[last updated 26 March 2009]
[Do read the FIPR's Database State report for the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust on the failings of public-sector IT in Britain, and how to fix them.]
The mainstream, national media seems to be getting around to talking about the totality of the effects of surveillance and database proposals as well as merely looking at them individually:
Privacy campaigners believe the proposals form part of a “pentagon” of five huge databases, all linked together in real time to create the ultimate surveillance society.
- or “database state” -
This would include compulsory registration of all Britain’s 72m mobile phones, more than 40m of which are prepaid. Terrorists and criminals prefer to hide behind the anonymity of prepaid phones, so a communications database needs to include accurate details of prepaid subscriber details. (the Times, for example)
According to Simon Jenkins, the pentagon consists of the “GCHQ “interception modernisation programme” … the ID card register, the driving licence centre, the numberplate recognition computer and the CCTV network”.
I’m building my own list (these are just the major ones, there are loads of public sector databases):
- ContactPoint is to record our interactions with state agencies from the day we are born until we are 18;
- the National Identity Register takes over at 15 and 9 months (even earlier if the child is given a passport), recording our names, addresses, and so on, as well as every interaction that requires us to prove our identity (from collecting a parcel at the Post Office to getting a new job to using non-emergency health care to crossing international borders) – also we will each be assigned an identity number, which will be used as an index in other databases (that is, if I am 10365 in the NIR, someone could draw together all the data on 10365 from all the other databases to find out everything about me – precedent suggests this isn’t a good idea);
- the Department for Work and Pensions Longitudinal Study links tax, social security, benefit, pension, ISA, TESSA, PEP information with names and addresses (i.e. our employment and financial info);
- the Intercept Modernisation Programme is to record every detail of our communications (except for the content, probably only because this would be practically impossible), who we talk to, when, for how long, and using what (see Article 5 European Data Retention Directive);
- CCTV records our pedestrian journeys, the ANPR is to record all our vehicle journeys nationally and the PNR (see also this and this) is to record all our international journeys (currently just journeys by air);
- the NHS medical records database, with our names, addresses, medical issues, health care workers etc;
- the CRB database and the Independent Safeguarding Authority database, which not only have details of our proven convictions (which I have no problem with) but also unsubstantiated allegations;
- the National DNA Database, which is recording the DNA of not only convicted criminals and suspects, but also innocent people including volunteers and witnesses, along with other details (also fingerprints and cell samples);
- Hidden in the new Coroners and Justice Bill is one clause (cl.152) amending the Data Protection Act, which would allow ministers to make ‘Information Sharing Orders’ that can alter any Act of Parliament and cancel all rules of confidentiality in order to use information obtained for one purpose to be used for another.
All adding up to an almost complete picture of our lives – and all for our own good, of course.
Finally, there was a YouGov / Daily Telegraph poll, conducted in late November 2006, on the surveillance society and ID cards: 79% thought we do live in a surveillance society; only 2% thought the information on the NIR will be totally accurate and reliable; only 11% trusted the government to keep the information safe; only 2% trusted the individuals with access to the information; 52% were unhappy to have their personal information recorded on the database; 44% thought the government had recorded too much of their personal information; people were largely happy about CCTV in different contexts but 70% disapproved of using the chips in ID cards to track them.