« Cameron 'prayed' that Brown wouldn't hold autumn 2007 election | Main | Applications to join the team ConservativeHome have now closed »


Currently we just about rest easy knowing that, in normal circumstances, our privacy is protected by the impossibility of routinely identifying us with the vast amount of video data that is recorded. However, as technology advances, monitoring video data will become easier and more automatic. We can already track vehicles across large amounts of the road network and I have no doubt that, within my lifetime, computers will be able to automatically identify and track people, too. In my opinion our first problem is that we will never have computer security good enough to protect such valuable and potent data.

For the same reason, i.e. security, we should not be allowing councils routine access to video evidence. While I think it would be brilliant if I could get the council to give me video showing the dog that keeps fouling my doorstep, such easy access would clearly be wide open to abuse. Now, accepting that we can’t allow general access, we have to set limits to who we trust. One million civil servants?

I'm not terribly fussed with the garnering of information about me, per se - though I do react strongly against those who use the trite justification of "if you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear".

My concern is the inadequacy of controls over who is allowed to make use of such information and the purposes for which it is used, particularly when disproportionately so. And my data certainly shouldn't be sold.

Just to take Ken's point one step further, there is also a cause for concern that the functionaries who administer and interpret what they obtain from surveillance will be more ready to use it against soft targets, especially if they see it as an easy source of revenue and a box ticked towards the meeting of an arbitrary target. Few would object, for instance, to a fly tipping gang being brought to book this way - many would find it objectionable that a case such as the alleged Wolverhampton apple core thrower ever saw the light of day at absurd public expense.

As an IT professional with a strong personal awareness of the limitations of data gathering and security I probably count as an information fundamentalist. I would much rather we erred on the side of privacy and allowed a proportion of crime go undetected and/or unpunished than that we caught every criminal but were unable to live our private lives in accordance with our own consciences.

Unfortunately in an age dominated by mass media hysteria and the Database State we seem to have the worst of both worlds. Many crimes go unsolved whilst law-abiding citizens are subject to the subtle tyranny of CCTV, the national DNA database and all kinds of other more subtle snooping.

This flies against one of the core principles of a free society: that it is our duty to moderate our own behaviour through self-discipline, not to have it moderated for us by The State. What we really need is better quality education, the social framework of strong family ties and credible apprenticeships, and a more immediate and positive relationship between the police and society at large.

These things would minimise both actual crime and generally anti-social behaviour without intruding on our civil liberties and make the CCTV network and the Database State redundant. But instead recent governments seem desperate to bring about the hellish predictions of Orwell and Huxley (although Brazil was probably nearer to the mark) through the cackhanded use of illiberally conceived, poorly specified and incompetently implemented technology which clearly is beyond their wit to understand.

Yes technology has advanced and we could in principle do some amazing things by gathering information, turning it into data (a much more limited entity) and processing it. But it's just not going to happen that way, and even if it did is that really the kind of Utopia any of us wish to live in?

Personally I've never had an issue with CCTV camera providing they're kept in public places e.g. town centres. I don't see how they're materially different to security cameras used in shops. If CCTV camers started to appear in residential areas I'd be worried though.

Wouldn't it be simpler just to have everybody chipped ?

It's proven technology, and it would keep us all safely within the benevolent sight of officialdom at all times.

What a great idea Doris, this would stop the need for passports and we could all be scanned as we came and went through customs just like our dogs!

I think there is a lot of confusion here, and a lot of very different issues get conflated. There's a huge difference between (say) CCTV in a public street or railway station, and accessing details of an individual's e-mails or telephone calls. The difference is that anything you do in a public place might in any case be seen by another person (be it an acquaintance or a police officer or a council official), whereas you have a reasonable expectation that your private communications are private.

So, to take a concrete example: Yes, it would be acceptable for a Council to place a camera to see who is fly-tipping in a particular public place where this is a problem, provided they followed sensible safeguards regarding anything else they pick up on the camera (!). But snooping on private communications should be left to the police, security services and a very small number of other government departments only, under judicial supervision.

The bottom line is that the Regulation of Investigory Powers Act 2001 was far too widely drawn. As happens so often, the Labour approach was "Let's put in place the maximum scope of powers, in case they are ever needed". A future Conservative government should tighten up the criteria and reduce the number of organisations which have investigatory powers - "Let's put in place the least intrusive powers which will meet real threats to public safety and well-being".

It is curious, because if my memory serves me right, it always used to be socialists who would bang on about 'their privacy being invaded'........

The comments to this entry are closed.



ConHome on Twitter

    follow me on Twitter

    Conservative blogs

    Today's public spending saving

    New on other blogs

    • Receive our daily email
      Enter your details below:

    • Tracker 2
    • Extreme Tracker