Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Attacking the surveillance society
In a strategic break with the Prime Minister, Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, and his home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg will launch their offensive at their party conference next month.
They have decided that Mr Brown's clear support for an extension of detention without charge beyond 28 days for terrorist suspects has destroyed any hope of a cross-party deal.
But they claim they are also responding to public anxiety highlighted by the Government's Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, who has warned that Britain is in danger of "sleep-walking into a surveillance society".
Liberal Democrat leaders say Britain is one of the most spied-on nations in the world and will use the conference to launch a campaign to roll back legislation they claim has gone too far. It includes the Identity Cards Act 2006, the creation of a national identity register and proposals for wide ranging data-sharing powers across Whitehall departments.The party will demand greater safeguards on:
* The CCTV cameras that have sprouted up in every town and some villages, at a ratio of one for every 16 people, making Britain the most "watched" country on the planet. There are 4.2 million CCTV cameras in streets all around the country.
* The DNA database, "the largest in the world", which has data on 140,000 innocent people, with a disproportionate number from ethnic minorities. Many schools are collecting pupils' biometric data, often without parental consent.
* The Information Commissioner, who has no power to restrict "data mining" and data processing requests by government agencies and reports to ministers rather than Parliament. Surveillance on credit cards, mobile phones and loyalty cards, and US security agencies monitoring telecommunications, require the Data Protection Act to be updated.
* Requests for communications traffic data by the police and other investigative authorities which topped 439,000 between January 2005 and April 2006.
* Intercept warrants, which exceeded 2,240 in the 16 months to April 2006 under laws making the UK alone among democratic nations to have warrants granted by ministers.