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Friday, February 27, 2009

A surveillance culture

The Times reports remarks by the Information Commissioner complaining that laws that allow officials to monitor the behaviour of millions of Britons risk “hardwiring surveillance” into the British way of life.

Richard Thomas believes that “creeping surveillance” in the public and private sectors has gone “too far, too fast” and risks undermining democracy. He has warned that proposals to allow widespread data sharing between Whitehall and the private sector are too far-reaching and that plans to create a giant database of every telephone call, e-mail and text message risk turning everyone into a suspect:

“In the last 10 or 15 years a great deal of surveillance in public and private places has been extended without sufficient thought to the risks and consequences,” said Mr Thomas. “Our society is based on liberty and democracy. I do not want to see excessive surveillance hardwired into British society.”

The paper says that last year Mr Thomas recommended to ministers that data sharing be allowed only in carefully defined circumstances such as law enforcement, improving public services and for research. They ignored his advice. Now, the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw is to do something about it.

His critique of the Government's justification for this bill is quite telling: He dismissed Jacqui Smith's assurances that officials would have access only to data on who had contacted whom, rather than the content of the communication. “That A has telephoned B on a particular date from a particular location is actually quite intrusive,” he said. “If an MP logged on to a site selling Viagra, that tells you quite a lot. If a 16-year-old girl goes on to a website about abortion that tells you an awful lot about her too. I don't think there's a black-and-white distinction between traffic data and content.”

Mr Thomas made clear that he did not object to the monitoring of those suspected of involvement in terrorism and serious crime. “But I think that's a very different situation from monitoring the communications of the entire population,” he said. “We've got to have a much clearer distinction between those who are suspects and everybody else and I think we're at risk of making everybody a suspect if we go too far down this road.”

Nice to see that we have a watchdog with some teeth and a fairly significant bark at that.


On the subject of Hardwiring Society, when do you think we will all have RID chips implanted in us?

Talking of surveillance, do you have any observations on the Sean Aspey story, or do you just write about the ever-diminishing number of good news Lib Dem stories on this blog?

You can't dedicate your life to slagging off other parties whilst simultaneuously ignoring things that so evidently amiss with your own tribe.

Unless of course you approve of your members strutting their stuff in Nazi uniforms?

Speak your brains Peter - let's hear it :-)
The question that has to be asked is whether it was a story at all or just a bit of sensationalist floss dragged up by the Labour Party to detract from their own failings.

Firstly, Sean Aspey was not, contrary to the reports, wearing a nazi, stormtrooper or SS uniform. He was wearing a Wehmacht uniform, or that of an ordinary German soldier. We have been at peace with Germany for over 60 years.

Secondly, it was an 'allo, 'allo' themed party and he was dressed accordingly. I cannot see how there was any impropriety unless you believe that this TV show should be banned as offensive (and I dont mean the jokes and sexual innuendo it contains).

Thirdly, he was a member of two inappropriate Facebook groups but there is no evidence that he took any part in them. In fact it is likely that he inadvertently clicked the wrong button amongst a host of invitations.

All the photos have been taken down and he has left the groups. The local party has suspended him to carry out a full investigation and I do not think it is appropriate that I comment further as there is such a thing as natural justice in the Liberal Democrats.

As for spending my time slagging off other parties, I comment on matters that interest me. I have strong opinions but then if you don't like that don't visit this site.
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