UK Liberty

Where are we going with this, and where do we want to end up? (Part 1)

Posted in database state, privacy, surveillance society by ukliberty on February 16, 2009

(Part 1 of an ongoing, indefinite series of ‘observations’)

Are we living in or walking into a surveillance state?

We live in a society where it is seriously proposed by our leaders that:

  • our walking around in public should be recorded (CCTV)
  • our car journeys should be recorded (ANPR)
  • our international journeys, whether by air, train, or boat, should be recorded (PNR)
  • every detail of our telecommunications (except for content, probably on practical rather than principled grounds) should be recorded (IMP)
  • our every interaction as a child with the state should be recorded (ContactPoint)
  • our every interaction notionally involving proving our identity should be recorded (National Identity Scheme) 
  • our medical records should be available to anyone notionally involved in healthcare (Connecting for Health)
  • all this data and more should be shared, with Gord knows who, at the whim of Government (data sharing provisions in the Coroners and Justice Bill)

David Aaronovitch and the Home Affairs Committee claim that we aren’t living or sleepwalking into a surveillance state or society.  I don’t know how they would define a surveillance state.

I suggest a reasonable definition of such a state is where a large proportion of the population, if not its entirety, is subject to pervasive surveillance.  I suggest it is unreasonable to claim that, given the non-exhaustive list of surveillance above, that we aren’t ‘sleepwalking’ into one – indeed I think we are already there.  I think it is unarguable.  

So the question for me is not whether or not we live in a surveillance state, but whether we mind living in one.  And if we don’t mind living in one, think about it pragmatically – whether these systems and databases actually work as advertised, or if they can be counter-productive (e.g. it is possible to have too much information, or require professionals to record so much that they do not have time to do the rest of their job).

By the way, it is seriously suggested by our leaders that all of this is necessary and proportionate (i.e. no more than is  necessary) and, furthermore, that not setting up such surveillance is “giving a licence to terrorists to kill“.


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  1. […] I’ve so far touched on erosions to the right to trial by jury, inquests, diversions away from the courts, unnecessary law, lowering and unreasonably reversing the burden of proof, and all sorts of civil orders that in fact may amount to criminal sanctions, and whether or not we are living in a surveillance state. […]

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