Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The ultimate surveillance society

More details are emerging of the government’s increasing mania for keeping us all under tight surveillance. Proposals are for five huge databases, all linked together in real time to create the ultimate surveillance society.

The compulsory registration of all mobile phones for example would interface with the automatic number plate recognition system of road traffic cameras, which provides live coverage of motor-ways and main roads. It, in turn, is linked to the DVLA in Swansea which holds the records of all registered vehicles in the country.

By monitoring a single telephone call it would be possible to identify exactly where its user was and the registration number of the car in which he or she was travelling. This car could then be found within seconds by the automatic number plate recognition cameras and tracked along its journey.

Jacqui Smith the Home Secretary and the government spy-masters at GCHQ are reportedly gung ho for the databases but Smith has apparently been told by her senior officials that they believe the proposals are impractical, disproportionate, politically unattractive and possibly unlawful from a human rights perspective.

Even the Association of Chief Police Officers have their reservations, describing the plans as “mission creep” which seems like a management speak way of saying that if you give these people an inch then they take a mile! The Association of Chief Police Officers also point out there is an inherent fear of the data falling into the wrong hands. Given this government’s record on losing data I think “inherent fear” is putting it lightly!

Give people power and they use it! This has been proved by anti-terror legislation being used to prosecute people putting their bins out early, identify culprits for dog fouling or using accommodation addresses to try and get their kids into the school of their choice. No-one is saying these people shouldn’t be brought to book but I don’t think a 24/7 surveillance society is the way to do it. Especially as it will be the ordinary law abiding man and woman on the street who end up being the easy target to be milked by on the spot fines while real criminals get away with it.

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