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UK Has Become a "Surveillance Society" 291

Posted by Zonk
from the gotta-keep-us-safe-from-the-bogeyman dept.
cultrhetor writes "In a story released by the BBC, Richard Thomas, the information commissioner for Great Britain, says that fears of the nation's 'sleep-walk into a surveillance society' have become reality. Surveillance ranges from data monitoring (credit cards, mobiles, and loyalty card information), US security agencies monitoring telecommunications traffic, to key stroke logging at work. From the article, the report 'predicts that by 2016 shoppers could be scanned as they enter stores, schools could bring in cards allowing parents to monitor what their children eat, and jobs may be refused to applicants who are seen as a health risk.' The report's co-author, Dr. David Murakami-Wood, told BBC News that, compared to other Western nations, Britain was the 'most surveilled country.' He goes on to note: 'We really do have a society which is premised both on state secrecy and the state not giving up its supposed right to keep information under control while, at the same time, wanting to know as much as it can about us.'"
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UK Has Become a "Surveillance Society"

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  • by Zarniwoop_Editor (791568) on Saturday November 04, 2006 @02:31PM (#16718049) Homepage
    FTA
    There are up to 4.2m CCTV cameras in Britain - about one for every 14 people.

    With that many cameras one can imagine it must be fairly difficult to venture out in public without being "ON CAMERA".
    I'm really not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand it might prevent some crime, on the other it certainly makes one feel like their privacy is in doubt. I guess it's only gonna be a real problem when they start installing them in your home.
    • It doesn't matter how many cameras there are. We all feel safe because we know that Chairman Blair would never abuse the power.
    • Cameras merely make a record so that it is possible that the criminal may be identified later.
      • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
        Cameras merely make a record so that it is possible that the criminal may be identified later.

        It's the record that is the problem. How long is it kept? If you're running for office 20 years down the line or applying for a job, would you want it to come out that you were speeding at 100mph/kissing a person of the wrong race or gender/talking to someone who ended up being arrested for terrorist 5 years later/etc? If there's a sunset law on the footage, that anything not involved in a criminal investigati

        • by SeaFox (739806)

          If you're running for office 20 years down the line or applying for a job, would you want it to come out that you were speeding at 100mph/kissing a person of the wrong race or gender/talking to someone who ended up being arrested for terrorist 5 years later/etc?

          How is this any different than people taking pictures on the street on their own? A photographer for a newspaper for example? Should we have laws all microfilm records of newspapers be distroyed after a set amount of time? After all, we can't have it

          • by Bishop923 (109840)
            How is this any different than people taking pictures on the street on their own?

            Because depending on your local laws, it is either illegal or VERY bad form to use a photograph of someone without their permission. 99% of the time people don't care, or will purposely stand in front of the camera("Hey Mom!") but if someone takes your picture you can always go to the person and ask that they not use it. If they use it anyway, at the bare minimum you can sue them. You can't do the same thing with a state-cont
            • by SeaFox (739806)

              Because depending on your local laws, it is either illegal or VERY bad form to use a photograph of someone without their permission.

              I'm sorry, that is completely WRONG (unless you are citing UK law). There are generally no laws against taking pictures of someone in public. In fact, there are no laws against taking pictures of private property as long as you are standing on public property and the shot is in plain view.

              Please review the Photographer's Right (PDF) [krages.com].

              if someone takes your picture you can always

          • by Kesh (65890)
            The difference is, it's everywhere and in the hands of the current government. A challenger to that government could find themselves in a very awkward position if said government used those surveillance records against them, regardless of context. It's different from having one person photographed by a random reporter or citizen on the street, versus having cameras virtually everywhere you go automatically recording your actions.
            • by SeaFox (739806)

              The difference is, it's everywhere and in the hands of the current government. A challenger to that government could find themselves in a very awkward position if said government used those surveillance records against them, regardless of context.

              Just like the photographs damning the current government can be posted online, photocopied, reprinted, emailed, or faxed making them equally umbiqitous. There is no inherent advantage to the government in this situation except that they are already in power and peo

      • Sooo, lemme summarize:

        1. You may not carry weapons or defend yourself properly.
        2. A criminal assaults you and if he's in a bad mood, he'll kill you, too.
        3. The police cleans up your body.
        4. The crime's on camera, but you're still dead.

        But, you say, criminals will be discouraged from committing crimes if they're monitored.

        First an observation: they're not monitoring criminals, they're monitoring you. And you aren't a criminal, so why are they monitoring you?

        1. Criminals commit crimes even if they're monitore
    • by SeaFox (739806)
      On the one hand it might prevent some crime, on the other it certainly makes one feel like their privacy is in doubt.

      Yeah, if there's one place I'm concerned about privacy, it's when I'm out in public.

      • by Firehed (942385)
        When you find a way to survive without ever leaving the house, let us know.
        • by SeaFox (739806)
          Are you replying to me or the parent? I have no issues with going out in public, but then I don't have unrealistic expectations of privacy when I'm out, either.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mrogers (85392)

        Yeah, if there's one place I'm concerned about privacy, it's when I'm out in public.

        So you wouldn't mind if a masked man followed you everywhere, every day, from the moment you left your house to the moment you returned, and made regular and detailed reports about your activities to unspecified people? Because personally I'd feel extremely intimidated and invaded by that situation. Unfortunately it's easy to forget that you're being treated that way by CCTV, because the cameras are relatively unobtrusive.

        • by SeaFox (739806)

          So you wouldn't mind if a masked man followed you everywhere, every day, from the moment you left your house to the moment you returned, and made regular and detailed reports about your activities to unspecified people? Because personally I'd feel extremely intimidated and invaded by that situation. Unfortunately it's easy to forget that you're being treated that way by CCTV, because the cameras are relatively unobtrusive.

          People are only being treated that way by CCTV if they're doing something suspicious.

          • by luder (923306) *
            Exactly. In the same fashion, I'm totally free to take photos of strangers in a public space, even if they don't want me to, and do whatever I feel like doing with them, as long as the usage is permitted by law. If the person can't be recognized (no face showing, for instance), that includes virtually anything. Else, it would be needed a written agreement for certain uses, like commercial usage (advertisements, ...), but, still, the photos could be sold or published in magazines or newspapers.
            • by SeaFox (739806)
              In the same fashion, I'm totally free to take photos of strangers in a public space, even if they don't want me to, and do whatever I feel like doing with them, as long as the usage is permitted by law.

              I've got a funny story [slashdot.org] about just that.
          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by mrogers (85392)

            People are only being treated that way by CCTV if they're doing something suspicious.

            That's your assumption, but in most cases you can't see what the camera's looking at. How would you feel about a camera operator watching your mother or sister for ten minutes because he found her attractive?

            Like the article said, 1 camera for every 14 people.

            On a crowded street, each camera captures more than 14 people at a time. Anyway, would you be happy to be followed by a masked man for one day every two weeks? Do y

            • by SeaFox (739806)

              That's your assumption, but in most cases you can't see what the camera's looking at. How would you feel about a camera operator watching your mother or sister for ten minutes because he found her attractive?

              And the difference would be what exactly? Would you go up to the gawker and punch them? I didn't think so. You can be annoyed by them just as well whether they are 15 ft or 1500 miles away.

              On a crowded street, each camera captures more than 14 people at a time. Anyway, would you be happy to be followed

    • by nurb432 (527695)
      In large US cities, its the same way.

      Now currently they arent all interconnected, but it wouldnt be hard to take that 'extra step'.

      And it doesnt really prevent crime. thats just marketing to get you to accept the invasion. It might help to id the person that mugged you later, but they wont stop just because it might be recorded.
      • by pjt33 (739471)
        I believe that statistics show that in the UK the presence of CCTV does in fact reduce crime in the surveilled area. However, rather than prevent it entirely it merely displaces it to places which don't have CCTV.
    • by cruachan (113813)
      I think the important point is that all this CCTV is generally owned and monitored by a *lot* of different organisations. Shops, clubs, pubs, malls etc all monitor there own little bit. True there are a police and council cameras too, but they are limited to a small % of coverage in city centres and traffic cameras on main commuter routes. So although if you wander around a city centre you're probably on camera most of the time, in practice the monitoring is so widely spread that it's difficult to say yo
    • Yeah it is, and it's a figure I've thought about a lot since I keep seeing it in the news. I don't believe it's the number of CCTV cameras covering public spaces, the traditional 'Big Brother' depiction. Just how many of this 4.2m are on private ground - in office buildings, pointing at warehouse entrances, in newsagents... not under the direct control of the police or the council. I think it's a fair proportion. Wish I could find some hard figures though.
    • by turgid (580780)

      The funny thing is, people are still being robbed, assaulted, raped and murdered here in Blighty.

    • by Tim C (15259)
      it must be fairly difficult to venture out in public without being "ON CAMERA"

      Utterly trivial in rural areas, pretty easy even in the large cities - for example, I live in London (just), and there are no CCTV cameras in my area at all. Go 10 miles west, into the centre of London, and sure, there are loads; I used to pass about 14 on the 5 minute walk from the Tube station to my office (then the office moved, and the number dropped).

    • it must be fairly difficult to venture out in public without being "ON CAMERA".
      I'm really not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand it might prevent some crime


      You are gravely mistaken [guardian.co.uk] if you think that people will shy away from criminal activity if they know they are on camera.
  • Hey Fark! (Score:3, Funny)

    by ResidntGeek (772730) on Saturday November 04, 2006 @02:36PM (#16718089) Journal
    Can we borrow your "obvious" tag?
  • Funny (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Threni (635302) on Saturday November 04, 2006 @02:37PM (#16718101)
    It doesn't feel any different. I know we've solved quite a few 20+ year old crimes using DNA, and we found out quite a lot about the July 7th bombers from CCTV. A friend whose car was damaged in a hit and run incident a few months ago managed to find out which insurance company to claim against because of cameras on the road - that wouldn't have been possible if she's just hoped the guy had decided to turn himself in.

    Still, I'm sure there's a downside to this technology, otherwise why the fuck would people keep going on and on and on and on about it all the time, as if the presence of cameras somehow stops them from going about their lawful business.
    • by joe 155 (937621)
      I think that your viewpoint is pretty typical of people actually who are in the UK, I am and it doesn't really bother me. A lot of Americans (who will be modding you down right about now) cannot understand how anyone could be happy in this situation because they have a tradition of being suspicious of government and put the right to privacy above many other benifits which might come from this kind of thing...

      I'm not saying that any one view is better than another, although for my own part I think that i
      • Re:Funny (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Poppler (822173) on Saturday November 04, 2006 @03:02PM (#16718321) Journal
        for my own part I think that it might help reduce crime by increasing the probability of getting caught and thus changing the pay-off matrix for the criminals
        It doesn't.
        http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/2192911.stm [bbc.co.uk]
        http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/leicestershire/ 4294693.stm [bbc.co.uk]

        Of coarse, it's your country, and it's none of my business that you let your government monitor you. Just don't let them fool you into thinking it's useful for deterring crime. Violent crime in particular is often not a rational act; most criminals are not putting the risk and reward through an algorithm to determine whether or not they should commit the crime.
      • by flossie (135232)

        I think that your viewpoint is pretty typical of people actually who are in the UK, I am and it doesn't really bother me. A lot of Americans (who will be modding you down right about now) cannot understand how anyone could be happy in this situation because they have a tradition of being suspicious of government and put the right to privacy above many other benifits which might come from this kind of thing...

        And similarly, if you talk to many Chinese people you will discover many of them see nothing wro

      • I'm not saying that any one view is better than another, although for my own part I think that it might help reduce crime by increasing the probability of getting caught and thus changing the pay-off matrix for the criminals

        Here's another way to look at it, which it doesn't seem like anyone has really considered..

        If the only way your populace obeys the law is because they know they might get caught.. what does that say about your society? What does a society really have to offer, that can only control it

      • by gilgongo (57446)
        I actually think that the level that it could go up to is pretty high and I wouldn't be that bothered.

        The deception's working rather well with you then, isn't it?

        There are two big problems with the "reasonable" line of argument that you've swallowed (and please don't try to say it's your own independent conclusion - that would be too painful to watch). I mean the one that's ready to pile a few "theoretical" disadvantages against what are seen as the real advantage of lower crime rates. The problems are thes
        • by joe 155 (937621)
          very interesting, and I am indeed in my twenties, but I would say that the conclusions which I have reached on this are largely my own as a result of some fairly serious (and largely academic) thought... OK, I know that you can use the infinite regression argument, to say for example that I've obviously fallen for the elites hegemony such as that my ideational preferences have been shaped and I can't come to any rational conclusion. But assuming that the structural power of the elites isn't that high (I do
    • by badfish99 (826052)
      No, the camers don't stop people going about their lawful business.

      On the other hand, Britain is (yet again) running out of space in its jails. So either the cameras are not having any effect on the crime rate, or else a lot of people are being imprisoned for trivial offences for which they would not have been imprisoned in the past. In the first case they are a waste of money, and in the second case they are having the effect of criminalizing a large proportion of the population.
    • by ElephanTS (624421)
      we found out quite a lot about the July 7th bombers from CCTV

      The main evidence used to posthumously charge the 4 men was the Luton station still. This frame has been quite obviously photoshopped. I know I'll be modded into oblivion for questioning this but I feel I should point it out because it bothers me a great deal. The CCTV system of the bus that exploded in Tavistock Square was uncharacteristically not working that day too.

      http://www.julyseventh.co.uk/7-7-cctv-evidence.htm l [julyseventh.co.uk]
    • by evilviper (135110)
      as if the presence of cameras somehow stops them from going about their lawful business.

      Absolutely right. No law abiding individual has SECRETS... NONE.

      Surely law-abiding people don't mind that they're being videotaped by the government as they meet up with their homosexual lover, go get an abortion or visit the child they put up for adoption years ago. etc. After all, it's perfectly legal, why should you care there's videotape of it all?

    • It may work out really well. Widespread CCTV may be the answer to the random crimes that have plagued the urban dweller for as long as there have been urban dwellers.

      Just the same, I'm glad the theory is being tested in a country other than my own.
    • by cmaxx (7796)
      Sure, under a relatively benign government, with relatively benign police this surveillance, and the laws that mandate it and hold no enforcable checks against abuses aren't hurting us much.

      Yet.

      It only takes a little more zeal or stupidity in these places to lead to genuine abuses. And then the lack of checks will become nasty.

      And if we get a government which really distrusts its people, and has a strong leader, well, it's happened too many times before in too many places in too many ways to claim that we'l
  • by arun_s (877518) on Saturday November 04, 2006 @02:38PM (#16718113) Homepage Journal
    key stroke information used to gauge work rates
    All characters in this post painstakingly copy-pasted using mouse :(
    God I hate draconian surveillance
  • A back to nature movement will rise up to smash all those cameras so people can walk around naked in public again.
  • by eMago (267564) on Saturday November 04, 2006 @02:43PM (#16718157) Homepage
    The "privacy rating" list of the 36 countries mentionted in the article can be found here: http://www.privacyinternational.org/survey/phr2005 /phrtable.pdf [privacyinternational.org]

    As it seems, the quite bureaucratic Germany has learned from its history (three police states in a century: the Second Empire with the Prussian secret police, Nazi Germany with the GESTAPO/SD/SS and socialist Eastern Germany with the STASI), however privacy is eroding there nearly as quickly as anywhere else.

    Where will this (cultural?) trend in the western world lead to and where will it end? I think the older Germans know and perhaps some already prepare for the next autocracy/surveillance society.
    • by owlnation (858981)
      I have only anecdotal evidence to support this but...,

      As a Brit living in Germany, I have to say that Germany feels far far more oppressive than the UK. While I may be on camera and my shopping may be monitored in the UK, I am free to live wherever I wish without state interference.

      I cannot do that in Germany. Everytime I move house here I have to sit for hours in a miserable state office to inform them of where I now live. I am fined if I do not do so quick enough. I cannot leave the house in Germany
  • Two appendices purport to give glimpses into life in britain in 2006 and 2016. The 2016 scenario reminds me of the later simulations in A Mind Forever Voyaging

    In residential areas, public area CCTV has almost entirely
    become Open-Circuit Television (OCTV). All under 18s are currently barred from
    entering or leaving the Estate from 6pm until 6am. For Sara, this means that to see
    her best friend, Aleesha, outside school hours, one of them has to risk an encounter
    with the estate's Community Wardens, who are armed

  • >Richard Thomas, the information commissioner for Great Britain, says that fears of the nation's 'sleep-walk into a surveillance society'

    That is not true. I heard his comments, both last year and this year.

    Last year he said

    "I think we are sleep-walk into a surveillance society"

    this year he said

    "We have sleep-walked into a surveillance society"

    He never said 'fear'

    He wants a debate as to whether or not this is something we want.

    Don't put words into his mouth to make your subjects sound interesting.
  • Terrorstorm DVD (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LM741N (258038) on Saturday November 04, 2006 @03:04PM (#16718343)
    Search Amazon for the Terrorstorm DVD by Alex Jones. One section of the video has some excellent pictures of the camera systems in use in Britain. On a more general note about the video, it is an excellent documentary about the rise in state sponsored terrorism. Last I checked it was #21 in popularity for Amazon DVD's. Alternatively, you can find it on Google video or at www.infowars.com.
    • by evilviper (135110)

      One section of the video has some excellent pictures of the camera systems in use in Britain. On a more general note about the video, it is an excellent documentary about the rise in state sponsored terrorism.

      NOTHING Alex Jones has ever done can possibly be called "excellent".

      His format is taking select comments out of context, relying on typos, using unverified statements from completely random/anonymous individuals, etc.

      But if you want to hear some baseless bullshit evidence about how HAARP is a weather m

  • Change (Score:3, Informative)

    by 42Penguins (861511) on Saturday November 04, 2006 @03:05PM (#16718351)
    Why not try to make a change? Tomorrow is the 5th of November, after all.
  • that this all is very necessary to catch the bad guys and if you have nothing to hide, what's the problem?

    He's planning to move to America next year because he can't take the high taxes and cost of living anymore, among other things. I wonder if he ever connected the two. (Remember all those new surcharges to fly these days after 9/11 to pay for the federalization of the security workforce and multiply that throughout an entire society.)
    • by kinnell (607819)
      he can't take the high taxes and cost of living anymore, among other things. I wonder if he ever connected the two


      In Germany they pay close to twice as much tax as Britain, yet the cost of living is considerably lower. What connection are you expecting him to make?

  • From the article:

    Have Your Say...
      If it prevents criminal behaviour or improves its detection I'm all for it.
    Mark Jones, Plymouth


  • This part of the article/summary caught my eye:

    ...and jobs may be refused to applicants who are seen as a health risk.

    I don't know if I'm helping to dismantle the vapid Orwellian scare tactics that the article has adopted or if I'm just adding to them by pointing this out. The work climate and employment laws in the U.K. may differ from those of the U.S., but in the United States, this already happens.

    The Americans With Disabilities Act proscribes discrimination against disabled Americans and imposes a bur

    • by VJ42 (860241)
      Similar legislation exists here in the UK, but we have the NHS in the UK, so paying for health care isn't an issue; discrimination still happens, but it's often to do with perceived problems with the disabled rather than real ones. And it's a problem that's being tackled, but like racist and sexist* based decisions it appears to be declining

      *This is probably a bigger problem with lots of bosses reluctant to employ women of childbearing age due to costs of statutory regulations over maternity leave and pay.
  • With Oceania allied with Eurasia we will be able to defeat Eastasia with ease! Quick, time for our two minutes of hate!
  • To defend against allegations that one's policies will lead eventually to an untenable moral outrage, it is not enough to call these arguments "a slippery slope." Some slopes are slippery. A better tactic is to argue that there are in fact boundaries to your proposals-- bright lines that cannot accidentally be crossed by the unwary.

    But this defense of surveillance does not give me any comfort.

    Graham Gerrard from the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said there were safeguards against the abuse of

  • Take that one step farther, and you might get denied purely due to your spending habits or your friends. "we dont approve of those books you buy" or "well, we see you have friends that live in the wrong side of town, and you visit them often"

    Dont forget insurance rates going up "we see you drive often in a higher crime area then you live, so we will be rasing your rate to compensate"
  • On the one side there is an outcry from some that this attacks the privacy and on the other side people are uploading their most shamefule pictures and moviemoments to show the world.

    One used to say: 'Give me freedom or give me death' Now people seem to say: 'I don't want to die, no matter how I am forced to live.'

    Oh well, I am off watching Big Brother.
  • "We really do have a society which is premised both on state secrecy and the state not giving up its supposed right to keep information under control while, at the same time, wanting to know as much as it can about us."

    It's not often that the most excellent quote from the article is included in the /. summary of said article.

    BTW, WTF is a 'London Oyster Card'?!

  • You have nothing to fear. Look, I'm sure it's all fine and we can trust our overlords with unlimited power. It always works out well.
  • so let's party like it's 1984
  • The new Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood [bbc.co.uk] has been making great use of surveillance cameras. At first I was skeptical that they could track people by camera like that. Then I remembered they were in the UK and cameras really are everywhere. Sad when the creepiest feature of a sci-fi show is the one that already exists.
  • From the article, the report 'predicts that by 2016 shoppers could be scanned as they enter stores, schools could bring in cards allowing parents to monitor what their children eat, and jobs may be refused to applicants who are seen as a health risk.'

    Nothing to see here. Just a minority report written by Guy Fawkes at Gattaca...

  • A copy of an email I wrote to my federal member of parliament. I don't have much faith that it will be acknowledged let alone acted upon.

    ***********
    I am writing to you as my Federal representative on a matter that has caused me some concern and distress. Our household has been selected to take part in the Australian Bureau of Statistics Time Use Survey 2006, and we were informed of this in writing roughly two weeks ago. On Monday October 23rd, an ABS employee named OMITTED came to our house and asked
    my part
    • by petrus4 (213815)
      I don't have much faith that it will be acknowledged let alone acted upon.

      I am glad you at least have realistic expectations about what the response to this letter will likely be.

      In response to some of my posts here a few days ago about George W Bush, I was called a crackpot and a raving moonbat. However I find myself wondering...What are the demoniacs inhabiting the halls of government in three countries (Australia, America, and England) going to have to do to us before we develop an appropriate sense of
  • by flok (24996)
    v for vendetta anyone?
  • Tony Blair has called for all innocent citizens to be forcibly DNA swabbed [telegraph.co.uk]. Since the Govt stated they would link the police databases to the National Identity Register [identitycards.gov.uk] (pg 5), this would mean our DNA, our tax/benefits records and detailed tracking of our car movements via ANPR will be cross-indexed into a single surveillance dossier. Even without our DNA, this would be 10x more intrusive than any other country, China and North Korea included.

    Linking medical, email, phone, bank & credit card records w

  • When in school, less than two generations ago, UK was a great example for civil liberty with unarmed Bobbies, Speakers Corner, no need to carry an(y) IC with you. Habeas Corpus almost 1000 years in place; and so forth.
    What a sad day !

    As an aside, I personally don't mind the public CCTV cameras. If in doubt, I think these actually serve as deterrent against crime respectively help solving crime. If someone *actually* and *really* needs to know where I go when taking a walk, could in any case follow me.
    But he

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