Since 2007 the House of Lords select committee on the constitution has been hearing evidence, and collecting information, about the issues of privacy and surveillance in the UK. This investigation has come under the heading The Impact of Surveillance and Data Collection upon the Privacy of Citizens and their Relationship with the State.
This inquiry, originally Chaired by Lord Holme of Cheltenham (who died in 2008), completed its report on 21st January 2009. The report, entitled Surveillance: Citizens and the State Volume I: Report was published on 6th February 2009.
During the investigation into privacy issues, there have been several major incidents relating to data and privacy, which have effected the final report. These include:
- Conclusion of the trial of S and Marper V United Kingdom at the ECHR; which found against the UK.
- Loss of millions of records by the HMRC in 2007, followed by reports of more and more personal data losses by the UK Government in 2008.
- Misuse of data by police and councils alike.
- Reports into the HMRC fiasco showed the government to be “reckless” with data
Despite all of these problems, the government has still been pushing for more information sharing, a Centralized Government Database, and monitoring of all emails and internet access.
In addition to the major events highlighted above the House of Lords made a “Call for Evidence” on the subject of privacy and surveillance, in 2007. Numerous bodies responded, including:
Virtually all of the evidence submitted, and certainly those highlighted above, stated that UK was already, or at risk of, becoming a “surveillance society”, with all the apparatus for a police state, even if that was not the aim of the government.
The report by the House of Lords, Surveillance: Citizens and the State , is clearly against the pernicious use of surveillance, with recommendations on a range of areas, including:
- Increase the powers of the ICO
- Make the public more aware of the data monitoring/collection
- Enforce encryption in certain areas
- Restrict the use of the National DNA database
- Review the use and effectiveness of CCTV
- Review the use of RIPA
While the report is critical of the government, it is written in a very diplomatic style, which would be expected from the second house. However far stronger words have come directly from the Chairman of the committee, Lord Goodlad, who stated:
“The UK now has more CCTV cameras and a bigger National DNA Database than any other country. There can be no justification for this gradual but incessant creep towards every detail about us being recorded and pored over by the state”
This report, is the most influential report that can be provided to a government, and comes on the back of a year of data loss and data misuse, with numerous reports into privacy and data mis-handling issues. From the ICO reports about privacy to Government appointed reports of MoD and the HMRC data loss; from the ECHR cases against the UK, to the House of Lords reports on the Prum Convention.
Every one of these report’s shows that UK is the most monitored country on earth, clearly states that this bad for the citizens of the UK, or shows the government has failed to secure out personal data. In fact despite the infringements of privacy, the costs to tax payer, and the costs to freedom, all of the additional surveillance has not really stopped the criminals committing crime, and just limited freedoms of the every day citizien
If the House of Lords report does not effect the government’s stance on survelliance, no amount of information, media reporting, or mild activism will.
Ironically, any form of direct action against the governments surveillance state is also likely to fail; either because the surveillance already in place would prevent it, or direct action would be counter productive because the government would use it to show how more surveillance was required.
So, if the government does not change tack, what could be the solutions:
- Change of Country. With more people leaving the UK than ever before, this seems a common choice
- Change of Government. With current polls, this looks likely.