The information commissioner has proposed new safeguards to ensure the UK does not become a “surveillance society”.
Giving evidence before the Home Affairs select committee, information commissioner Richard Thomas has also called for stronger powers to allow his office (the ICO) to carry out inspections and audits.
Currently, the commissioner must gain consent before inspecting an organisation for compliance with the Data Protection Act.
Thomas said, “People now understand that data protection is an essential barrier to excessive surveillance. But it is wrong that my office cannot find out what is happening in practice without the consent of each organisation.”
There is also a concern that too much surveillance will create a climate of fear and suspicion, said Thomas.
“It is essential that before new surveillance technologies are introduced full consideration is given to the impact on individuals and that safeguards are in place to minimise intrusion,” he said.
The introduction of privacy impact assessments will ensure organisations set out how they will minimise the threat to privacy, and address all the risks of new surveillance arrangements prior to their implementation, he said.
These assessments, which are already commonly used in other countries such as Australia and the USA, will ensure that ways of working do not lead to unacceptable intrusion into private lives, said the commissioner.
The commissioner also wants to be routinely consulted before “significant new developments”.
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