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UK is a 'surveillance society', says information commissioner

Antony Savvas

The UK is now a “surveillance society”, with technology being used to track the routine movements of all citizens, according to the government’s data watchdog.

A report on the widespread use of surveillance in the UK will be presented to the 28th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy in London today.

Information commissioner Richard Thomas said, “Two years ago I warned that we were in danger of sleepwalking into a surveillance society. Today I fear that we are in fact waking up to a surveillance society that is already all around us.”

“Surveillance activities can be well-intentioned and bring benefits. They may be necessary or desirable – for example, to fight terrorism and serious crime, to improve entitlement and access to public and private services, and to improve healthcare. But unseen, uncontrolled or excessive surveillance can foster a climate of suspicion and undermine trust.”

Thomas said that as more information is collected, shared and used, it intrudes into peoples’ private lives and leads to decisions that directly influence their lives.

He said mistakes could also easily be made “with serious consequences – false matches and other cases of mistaken identity, inaccurate facts or inferences, suspicions taken as reality, and breaches of security”.

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